ERIE, Pa. – The Gannon wrestling team spent 2008-2009 under the radar. After winning 10 of 12 dual meets and then having three All-Americans at the NCAA Division II National Championships, the Golden Knights will enter 2009-2010 squarely in the spotlight.
GU is ranked 17th in the NCAA Division II Wrestling Coaches Association Preseason Top 20 and is tabbed fourth in the East Region. The Knights are the second-highest ranked Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) program in the national poll behind Mercyhurst (11th), but Gannon is ahead of the fifth-rated Lakers in the regional rankings.
GU sent three grapplers to nationals last year, as Jacob Tazzi, Kevin McElhaney (Jamestown, Pa./Jamestown Area), and Frank McGrath (Hammonton, N.J./St. Augustine Prep) qualified with strong regional performances. Tazzi won the Super Regional One title in the 184-pound division and McElhaney took the crown in the 149-pound class. McGrath was the runner-up in the heavyweight division at the regional tournament.
McGrath, in his second consecutive appearance at nationals, finished fifth. He went 4-2 and recorded his team-high 15th pinfall of the season. Tazzi and McElhaney each placed sixth in their weight class. All three earned All-America honors, the first time GU has had three such wrestlers in one year.
Coach Don Henry led his squad to 10 dual victories, the second-most in program history. Only the 1996-1997 team won more, with 11 wins. Gannon finished the regular season with seven straight dual victories, beating ranked opponents Ashland, Shippensburg, and West Liberty State in the streak. At regionals, the Knights took fourth place in the team standings, defeating Mercyhurst, who placed fifth. GU then finished 15th as a team at nationals.
A look at each weight class for the Knights in 2009-2010-
125-Newcomer John Fleming (Bethel Park/Lakeview) appears to have the inside track at this spot, as the former national qualifer at Indianapolis University arrives at GU with two years of eligibility remaining. He is ranked fourth regionally in this division. Sophomore Justin Rivera (Vineland, N.J./St. Augustine Prep), junior Scott Baron (Saegertown, Pa./Saegertown) and freshman Peter Mosher (White, Ga./Harrison) will also compete for time.
133-Senior Corey Bowers (Pasadena, Md./Chesapeake) will start the season in this spot, having redshirted in 08-09. He is third in the preseason regional rankings. â€œBowers walks the walk and talks the talk for us. He is focused on winning a national title this year,â€ said Henry.
141-Adam Green (Atlantic, Pa./Conneaut Lake), a senior, and A.J. Milanak (Apollo, Pa./Kiski Area) will share time here. Milanak tied for the team lead with 33 wins last season. â€œMilanak lit the world on fire early last season,â€ said Henry.
149-McElhaney returns in this division coming off his stellar 2008-2009 campaign. The senior upset top-seeded Latra Collick of Newberry College in the finals at regionals. McElhaney is fourth nationally and is ranked second in the East Region coming into 2009. â€œHe really had a great year and wrestled his best at the end of the season,â€ said Henry. Sean Floor (Westbrookville, N.Y./Port Jervis) could also see time at this weight.
157-Zach McKendree (Vandergrift, Pa./Kiski Area), a redshirt a year ago, returns to the Knights for the upcoming season. He was an All-American in the 149-pound class in 07-08, winning 24 contests. The junior is ranked second in the East this year. â€œMcKendree will surprise people. He isnâ€™t getting the respect he thinks he deserves, so that may irritate him a bit,â€ said Henry.
165-Senior Ted Hoag (Bethel Park, Pa./Bethel Park) will have the first shot at this spot, having shared time the last two seasons at 165 pounds.
174-Juniors Bret Terry (Canal Winchester, Ohio/New Albany) and Tony Petrella (Reynoldsburg, Ohio/Bishop Hartley) will compete for mat time. Terry is the sixth-ranked wrestler in the region.
184-Junior Chris Daniels (Erie, Pa./Harbor Creek) and freshman Dave Jennings (Attica, N.Y./Attica Central) are the leading candidates to replace Tazzi in this weight class.
197-Chris Boyd (Chase City, Va./Randolph Henry) will start the season in this division after redshirting last season. Freshman Marino Quercio (Butler, Pa./Butler) will battle Boyd for mat time.
Heavyweight-McGrath is ranked fourth nationally in the division and is the top-rated grappler in the East Region after his dominating 08-09 performance. He recorded 15 pins on his way to nationals. Another heavyweight, sophomore Jimmy Martz (Hookstown, Pa./Southside Beaver) could start for many Division II programs.
Henry has high hopes for this yearâ€™s squad. â€œOur first five weight classes are going to be hard to beat. Itâ€™s going to be a very strong lineup on paper,â€ said Henry.
The Knights open at the University of Buffalo Open November 1 and then host the National Catholic Invitationl November 7. GU will travel to Cedar Falls, Iowa for the National Duals January 9-10. â€œThat meet is a big upgrade for us. We want to see the best guys in the country there,â€ said Henry.
Gannon will also face third-ranked Newberry College, #10 Pitt-Johnstown, and 11th-ranked Mercyhurst in separate duals throughout the season.
McGrath and the lower weight classes will be the strength of the 2009-2010 Golden Knights. Success could be measured by how well the less-anticipated wrestlers perform on the mat.
Courtesy of Gannon Sports Information.