Pitt-Johnstown wrestlers eye bounce-back result in home opener

Nov. 14—Pitt-Johnstown wrestling coach Pat Pecora sees some similarities between his 0-1 team and the one that Mike Tomlin coaches on Sundays in Pittsburgh.

"We're a lot like the Steelers," Pecora said as his team prepared to host 2-0 East Stroudsburg in the home opener at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. "We're going to have to fight like hell for every win. It's not going to be like last year where we were winning seven, eight, nine matches every dual."

That was evident in the Mountain Cats' season-opening loss at West Liberty on Nov. 2. Pitt-Johnstown dropped five consecutive bouts in the 20-14 setback. Last season, the Mountain Cats didn't lose more than three bouts in a dual all season as they went 15-0 and outscored opponents 516-108.

Pecora shouldered the blame for Pitt-Johnstown's performance against West Liberty, saying he didn't have his team prepared, but he was more impressed by what he saw from them on Sunday at the Journeyman Classic in Bethlehem.

The lone Division II team in the tournament, Pitt-Johnstown wrestlers went 33-18 against Division I competition. Three-time All-American Jacob Ealy went 3-0 at 149 pounds. Byron Daubert, a Forest Hills grad who qualified for the 2023 national tournament at 133, also went 3-0, as did 197-pounder Dakoda Rodgers and 184-pounder Noah Gnibus.

"I think we wrestled well this weekend," Pecora said. "We definitely are not the same team as last year. We're not as experienced. We lost some key guys."

Brock Biddle, a three-time All-American, and Nate Smith, a two-time NCAA medalist, are gone from that squad, as is national qualifier Caleb Morris. The Mountain Cats are also without Alex Weber early in the season as last year's starter at 174 pounds works his way back from a pair of offseason surgeries.

As they break in four new starters, the Mountain Cats will need to rely on everyone in the lineup.

"It's going to be about how we can bring each other along," Pecora said. "How the guys can step it up a bit, how I can step it up a bit, how (assistant coach) Tyler Reinhart can step it up a bit."

On Wednesday, the Mountain Cats will be looking for 125-pounder Trevon Gray to step up against East Stroudsburg. A Super Region I champion last season, Gray could face Jason Athey, a freshman who won the East Stroudsburg Open on Sunday.

The Warriors had a second champion at the event, as freshman heavyweight Layton Schmick went 4-0 with three falls. He'll face Pitt-Johnstown's Isaiah Vance, a Super Region I champion last season.

"We're going to see how we bounce back," Pecora said. "East Stroudsburg's better than they were in the past. I think we're going to have to fight for every win."

The dual will begin at 5:30 p.m. and be followed by Pitt-Johnstown's women's basketball home opener against Malone.