Bucknell wrestler Drew Phipps of Norwin set for NCAA championship debut
Falling tantalizingly shy of qualifying for the NCAA wrestling championships last season pushed Drew Phipps to make sure it wasn’t going to happen again.
A Norwin graduate, Phipps is having his best collegiate season as a junior for Bucknell. A 197-pounder, Phipps carried a 14-match winning streak into last weekend’s Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association championship tournament. He made the semifinals and placed sixth to earn an automatic berth to the NCAA championships that begin March 21 at PPG Paints Arena.
“He was basically one win away from going to the NCAA Tournament last year,” Bucknell coach Dan Wirnsberger said, “so I think that’s helped fuel him in the offseason and was a motivating factor just in the preparation for his junior season. And he’s been a consistent performer.”
A four-time PIAA qualifier who was state runner-up as a senior in 2016, Phipps went into last year’s EIWA championships at 184 pounds knowing the bracket had seven available NCAA automatic qualifier slots.
Phipps was seeded eighth. He made the quarterfinals and lost. After a win in the loser’s bracket, Phipps lost again. He later lost the seventh-place match, too.
In other words, three times last year, Phipps was one victory away from making it to NCAAs.
Those setbacks, however, led to Phipps making NCAA championships debut in his home city.
“Real big,” Phipps said of wrestling in Pittsburgh. “Especially after last year, that hurt me and pushed me even harder this year.
“Whereas at the beginning of the season maybe I was just looking to make (NCAAs), now I am looming to make it and even place. I know I can place if I wrestle my best.”
Phipps proved that when he beat then-No. 4 Rocco Caywood of Army West Point, 7-3, on Feb. 10. Phipps went 15-3 in duals during the regular season.
“What makes him so good, I think, is consistency in the practice room and in the preparation process,” Wirnsberger said.
“Wrestling is really important to him. He’s passionate about it, but also on the other end of the spectrum, socially and academically he does all the right things. And that’s a great recipe for a captain.”
So Wirnsberger and his staff named Phipps one — as a junior. That meant it wasn’t merely a rubber-stamped coronation for, say, a fifth-year senior. Phipps earned it.
“It shows that the coaches believe in me, and they know all the hard work that I feel I put in is not going unnoticed to them,” Phipps said. “It is definitely a good feeling for me, but I also have to hold my name to it and lead by example all the time, which I try my best to do.”
A two-time WPIAL champion, Phipps is an environmental geosciences major at Bucknell. He describes his wrestling style as “pretty basic,” and he speaks like a cerebral tactician who openly admits he’s not flashy or prone to risk-taking on the mat.
“Compared to someone like (Bucknell freshman teammate Zach Hartman), Zach is always ending up in crazy positions, putting people on their backs,” Phipps said. “That’s a more different style. I am more basic. I like to pick and choose my positions and put myself in spots that I am really good at and stay out of spots that I am not good at. Slow the pace down or pick the pace up how I want it to be.”
Said Hartman, a Belle Vernon alum and one of the best freshman 157-pound wrestlers in the country: “(Phipps) is a man of few words, but he’s wise. He’s a really good teammate to have.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .