There’s no doubt that wrestling fans were disappointed with the cancellation of the NCAA Wrestling Tournament, which was scheduled from today through Saturday in Minneapolis.
One can’t blame Jody Strittmatter for being a little more vexed than most.
Strittmatter is the co-owner and coach at the Young Guns Wrestling club, a group of wrestling schools in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Illinois.
Strittmatter’s trainees would have likely provided a good bit of Iowa’s firepower had the favored Hawkeyes won the team title.
The Cambria Heights graduate, a two-time Division II champion at Pitt-Johnstown and a two-time Division I All-American at Iowa, and his former roommate at Iowa, Eric Jurgens, started the project 17 years in Michigan and it’s grown since.
“I was still on the wrestling circuit. I got second at the U.S. Open and third at the World Team Trials. My roommate (Jurgens) was approached about starting a wrestling club and we did it,” Strittmatter said.
He said he and Jurgens stayed in Michigan for about eight months before moving to Pennsylvania. Jurgens now runs the Midwestern part of the club.
The Young Guns now have a total of six sites in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, which includes five. Of course, there are fees for the club. Beginning this month, the club offers freestyle instruction. Cost is $250 for one camper, $350 for two and $425 for three. Any camper can attend instruction at any location.
During those 17 years, the Guns have produced some real blue-chip talent. How about Jason Nolf, a three-time NCAA champ at Penn State, Vincenzo Joseph, a two-time NCAA winner at Penn State; Ohio State’s Luke Pletcher, ranked No. 1 for most of the recent season; Josh Shields, a PIAA champ at Arizona State; and former Penn State NCAA champion Nico Medaludis.
What’s a Young Gun practice like?
Here’s how Strittmatter describes it: “We start with some jogging, then some warm-ups and then gymnastics. We think gymnastics is incredible for wrestlers. Body awareness is important.
“Then we teach some techniques for 30 or 40 minutes. Then there is some live wrestling. After, we give them some words of encouragement to keep the motivation up.”
Earlier we mentioned that had Iowa won the NCAA title, a big part of its win would be tagged to Pennsylvania Young Gun wrestlers.
Important cogs in the Hawkeye lineup would have likely been two-time 126-pound NCAA champion Spencer Lee, Kaleb Young at 157, Matt Murin at 141 and Mike Kemerer at 174. All are Young Gun grads and that doesn’t include former 4-time state champion Gavin Teasdale.
There have been rumblings that Strittmatter funneled those wrestlers to Iowa City because of his ties to Iowa.
Strittmatter says no.
“People can assume that. But I didn’t go to Penn State with Megaludis, Jason Nolf, or Joseph. The list goes on and on — Luke Pletcher to Ohio State and guys to Virginia. I think my job is to get the kids to be as good as they can be. Or at least help.
“Young was the first one to go to Iowa. Kemerer was a friend of Young and then he went. For Kemerer, it was between Lehigh and Iowa. Then Lee went to a couple matches. Everyone wanted Spencer (Lee). The coaches at Iowa did a great job.”
Strittmatter says his present crop of young wrestlers is doing great. “We have an eighth grader who won the Super 32 (a fall tournament featuring the top wrestlers in the country). He won the high school portion of it. He’s only the second to do that.
“We want kids to do it right, on and off the mat.”
He points to the stars who have come through the program as those who have done it right on and off the mat.
“They all go about it a little different. They are great roles models, they really are. I have a 4-year-old boy and he looks up to those guys. And it’s so cool to see the legacy they left behind.
“It’s important the way they wrestle but it’s also how they handle themselves and the character they exhibit. You can be a gentleman off the mat and be a fierce competitor on the mat.”
There was a wrestling tournament last weekend — the National Collegiate Wrestling Association tournament in Dallas. We wrote about the NCWA in last week’s column.
There was a bit of static for the organization holding the event. But one must considered that these wrestlers paid their way to wrestle. The NCWA is not affiliated with the NCAA.
Our contact for last week’s column, Manuel Canfijn, the president of the West Chester University club team, finished fourth at 125 pounds. Nice going Manuel.
We know we’re alone in the wilderness but we were more than a little angry when the national media had little mention of the calling off of the D-I tournament. As usual, the boys in shorts got the publicity.
Looking back at the PIAA tournament: Districts 4 and 6 led the way with four champions each in 2A. District 11 had two and Districts 10, 5, 7, and 9 each grabbed one.
In 3A, District 7 led the way again — 6 champions. District 11 had three and District 3 two. Districts 9, 10 and 1 had one.