6 Pitt-Johnstown wrestlers set for Division II tournament

Mar. 14—Pat Pecora hopes each of his six Pitt-Johnstown wrestlers reach their potential at the NCAA Division II Wrestling Championships, which begin Friday just outside Wichita, Kansas.

But there's one thing Pecora, who has mentored 14 wrestlers to 22 national titles, desires more than anything: To see senior Jacob Ealy capture the 149-pound crown.

"That's the one thing I want: for him to win that national title," Pecora said this week. "There's no doubt about it."

Ealy is the second seed at 149 and Isaiah Vance is No. 2 at 285. Dakoda Rodgers is seeded fifth at 197, while Trevon Gray (125), Mason Myers (141) and Richland graduate Cooper Warshel (157) are unseeded for the event. The top eight finishers in each of the 10 weight classes will earn All-American honors.

Ealy placed eighth nationally in 2021, third in 2022 and fifth in 2023. He is 27-2 with 12 technical falls and 10 falls this season, and the four-time regional champion will be looking to cap his career with an NCAA title.

"I think the key for Ealy is for him to get to what he does best and just get going," Pecora said. "Once he scores those first few points and things start flowing, he's going to be hard to beat. What people try to do with good opponents is try to go as long as you can without the other guy scoring."

Ealy will face McKendree's Joey Semerad (20-12) in the first round.

A year ago, Ealy entered the tournament as the top seed, but lost his semifinal bout to Western Colorado's Jason Hanenberg. Pecora doesn't see a problem with his wrestler being a spot lower this time.

"I think everybody might be a little bit better as an underdog," Pecora said. "I think he's comfortable where he's at. He's ready to go."

Vance is 29-1 on the season with 17 falls, two shy of the school record for a heavyweight set by Carlton Haselrig in 1986-87. The sophomore qualified for the NCAA tournament in 2023, but went 0-2. He lost to Glenville State's Jared Campbell in the first round. This time, Vance will face another Glenville State wrestler in Gavin Shamblin (34-16). Vance pinned Shamblin in a Nov. 19 dual. The Mountain Cat also owns a fall over West Liberty's top-seeded grappler, Francesco Borsellino, although it came in the 2022-23 opener.

"This is what I don't like about the seeds," Pecora said. "The last time they met, Isaiah pinned him in the dual meet. This year, they didn't wrestle him against us."

Central Oklahoma's Shawn Streck, the defending champion at 285, had his 41-match winning streak snapped by Maryville's Ryan Herman in the Super Region IV tournament. Streck is seeded third, meaning he or Herman — the sixth seed — could meet Vance in the semifinals.

"It might not matter where he's at," Pecora said of Vance. "I hope he just keeps doing what he's been doing. I feel really good where he's at, confident. We know that he has the tools to do it."

Rodgers (29-2) will be making his second appearance in the NCAA tournament after going 1-2 in 2023. He's seeded fifth, but that doesn't guarantee an easy first-round match, as the sophomore will face Grand Valley State's Wyatt Miller (28-4). Miller beat Rodgers 6-2 on Jan. 6 in a dual meet at Pitt-Johnstown. Rodgers has won 11 consecutive matches since that setback.

Warshel is set for his NCAA debut at 157 pounds. The redshirt sophomore started his career at Division I Pittsburgh. He has gone 20-5 in his first season as a starter for the Mountain Cats. He'll face Colorado State-Pueblo's Cyruss Meeks (18-12) in the preliminary round with the winner advancing to face Belmont Abbey No. 7 seed Maxwell Kiel in the first round. Kiel went 0-2 in the 2023 tournament.

"I think everybody we're bringing can be in the top eight," Pecora said. "There's no doubt about it."

Myers, a junior, will be competing in his first NCAA tournament after going 18-9 this season. He'll face Nebraska-Kearney No. 6 seed Nick James, a two-time All-American with a 19-4 record, in the first round.

Gray will be making his second NCAA tournament appearance after going 0-2 in 2023. The redshirt sophomore is 24-8 this season and will face Newman's Dylan Sheler, who is 17-18, in a 125-pound preliminary-round bout with the winner advancing to face Adams State's Isaiah Gomez, a Region VI runner-up who is 19-2.