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No. 7 Pitt-Johnstown seeking a 26th regional wrestling title

Mar. 1—No. 7 Pitt-Johnstown should contend for the title at the NCAA Division II Super Region I tournament Saturday at Kutztown University, but coach Pat Pecora might not know where the Mountain Cats stand in the team race until the trophy presentation.

"I don't even look at the team score," Pecora said Wednesday. "I don't want to know the team score until the end of the tournament. I don't want it to affect how I coach. I don't want to look at matches and think, 'I hope that guy loses or that guy wins.' "

Pitt-Johnstown will be seeking a third straight regional championship and the 26th overall title in Pecora's career. Despite winning an eighth consecutive Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference title, the Mountain Cats might not be the favorite in the 11-team tournament. No. 23 Gannon, which Pitt-Johnstown beat 17-15 in their Feb. 10 dual, has three wrestlers favored to win individual titles according to the pre-seeds and three more picked to finish second. Pecora's team has three favorites in Jacob Ealy (149 pounds), Dakoda Rodgers (197) and Isaiah Vance (285) and two projected to finish second in Trevon Gray (125) and Richland graduate Cooper Warshel (157).

The top three finishers in Saturday's regional will advance to the Division II championships in Wichita, Kansas, on March 15-16.

"Tournaments are always tricky," Pecora said. "I always look at them as an obstacle course. Matchups mean so much, and every team has obstacles. I feel good about where we're at. We're capable of wrestling to our seed or above. That's how I've got to look at it."

At 25-1 overall, including 23-0 against Division II competition, Vance is the nation's second-ranked heavyweight. The Hempfield Area graduate has been dominant in 2024, having won nine of his 10 bouts by first-period fall.

"Isaiah has exploded since the Midwest Classic," Pecora said, referencing the December title that Vance won in Indianapolis. "It's something that's beautiful to see. I knew we had something special when we got him, just from his high school accolades. When something like that falls into your hands, I was like, 'Wow!' "

Ealy, who is 24-2 and ranked fourth nationally, has wowed Pecora for the past five years. The senior will be seeking his fourth regional title and, after spending much of the 2022-23 season ranked No. 1 nationally before settling for fifth place, the three-time All-American will be looking for a national title.

"I believe Ealy is where he needs to be," Pecora said. "He's a special young man, there's no doubt about it. There's nothing more that I want than for him to put a stamp on it with a national title. It starts with the regional."

Unlike Ealy and Vance, who each came to Pitt-Johnstown after decorated high school careers, Rodgers never even qualified for a PIAA tournament. The Connellsville Area graduate has blossomed under Pecora, turning in a 25-2 season to earn a No. 4 national ranking.

"Dakoda worked for everything," Pecora said. "He came out of high school with no accolades. He's worked all summer long for three years. He's earned the right to be there."

Other pre-seeds for Pitt-Johnstown: Mason Myers (141) and Tony Salopek (174) are each third, Noah Gnibus (184) is fourth and Forest Hills graduate Byron Daubert (133) is fifth.

"We're going to have to wrestle a very, very good tournament to try to win a regional title," Pecora said.