By Steve Maugeri
Two returning national qualifiers, two regional champions, one national champion. This was the tally for the Kutztown University wrestling team after their historic 2013 season. The Golden Bears are coming off of their highest regional ranking in school history, which culminated with the crowning of Ziad Haddad as the national champion at the heavyweight class. The grapplers finished last year with a contingent of Golden Bears representing the school at nationals, which consisted of Haddad, Evan Yenolevich and Bo Candelaria.
KU retains five regionally-ranked wrestlers from last year in Haddad, Candelaria, Joe Esposito, Brandan Clark and Matt Martoccio. This year, six grapplers open the season regionally ranked. Haddad and Candelaria are first in their respective weight classes, while Clark is third at the 197 weight class. Candelaria won his opening match at nationals last year and finished third at the Super Region I championships.
Division I transfer Andre Petroski enters the year ranked third at the 184 weight class, while Justin Heller rounds out the group with a no. 5 ranking at the 149 weight class. Petroski redshirted last season after two seasons at Bloomsburg. Heller transitioned to the 149 class after alternating between the 165 and 174 classes last year. “If we get everyone disciplined and on the right track, we can beat Notre Dame and be national champions. We just have to put our best team forward,” Petroski said.
Haddad will enter the season as the team’s catalyst. He is coming off a year where he finished 25-0 and was crowned as the heavyweight champion of Division II. He is looking to become a rare four-year national qualifier, and the only two-time national champion in the history of the program. Additionally, Haddad did not surrender a takedown to an opponent all of last year. He enters his third year in the maroon and gold after transferring from Division I North Carolina.
The Golden Bears open their season Nov. 2 at the Terrapin Duals at the University of Maryland. Their first home match is Nov. 21 against rival Pitt-Johnstown.