By Rachel Grula
JOHNSTON, Pa. – The 12th-ranked Kutztown University wrestling team defeated eight-seeded University of Pitt-Johnston 19-13, ending a 16-match win streak on their home mats Friday night. The win marks Kutztown’s first victory against UPJ in school history and improves them to 3-1 overall.
Pitt-Johnston started off with a 3-0 win, but Kutztown bounced back. No. 6-ranked senior Evan Yenolevich created a 10-0 lead at the end of the second period and ended with a 15-2 victory, placing the Golden Bears on the scoreboard, 4-3.
KU’s Mitch Voelker continued to improve Kutztown’s score 7-3, but the Mountain Cats did not yield, answering back with a pair of wins of their own.
The competition rocked back and forth throughout. Junior Justin Heller gave KU some leverage with his defeat of John Blakenship at 165 lbs., but a major decision by UPJ’s Gary Lantz showed Kutztown trailing going into the 184-pound competition.
Giovanni Ortiz took an early lead with a takedown 11 seconds into the match. Opponent Nikos Garofola fought to keep Ortiz on his toes, but the match was awarded to KU, tying it up 13-13.
It came down to the final two matches. Kutztown’s Brandan Clark challenged at 197-pounds.
“I was a little nervous but more excited,” Clark said. “We train every day to go out on the mat and compete, so it was just a matter of forgetting the score and going out there to wrestle.”
He forced a takedown in the first period and a reversal in the second to take the lead, 6-2. The third period was scoreless and Clark accepted the victory, putting KU up 16-13 with one match to go
NCAA No.1-ranked Ziad Haddad contended in the final bout for the Golden Bears. The 285 lb. junior opened with a takedown, building a 4-2 lead. Haddad contributed with two more takedowns and a time advantage that secured KU’s win, 19-13, increasing Haddad’s record 3-0.
Haddad believes that “you can’t look at rankings because in the end they mean nothing” and states the only way to become a national champion is by hard work and mental toughness.
“It’s a great feeling to beat UPJ,” said Haddad. “They are the standard of excellence in our sport and we are striving to compete at that level year in and year out. It’s another stepping stone on the path we want to follow.”
The KU wrestlers hope to keep on this path at the PSAC championships on Saturday, Dec. 7 in Edinboro, Pa.
Haddad summed up the season’s goal: “We need to continue to get better and move forward .We can’t get complacent. We want to be PSAC champs as a team and be in the mix for a team title at NCAA’s.”