BRADFORD, Pa. – For the first time if the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford history, Panthers wrestling will compete in an NCAA Division III event Friday at Penn State-Behrend.
Head Coach Colin Johnston will lead the Panthers in their first season as an NCAA varsity sport.
The Eighty-Four, Pa., native comes to Pitt-Bradford after serving as the assistant coach at Davidson College for three years. He spent his college years wrestling for West Virginia, earning an NCAA Division I qualification in 2014.
Last winter, Johnston was honored as a member of the Southwest Pennsylvania Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2018.
For the last two years, the Pitt-Bradford wrestling program has competed at the club level, but the Department of Athletics announced the move to NCAA Division III for the 2018-19 academic year in August of 2017.
"So far, the guys have been responding really well to what we're doing in practice," Johnston said. "They've been putting in the time in the wrestling room and I think they're really excited to get this first year started."
The roster for the Panthers' wrestling inaugural season is made up 18 total wrestlers: five freshmen, four sophomores, five juniors and four seniors.
"Everyone on the roster plays an important role on a wrestling team," Johnston said of his squad. "Whether they're a starter or not, these guys are putting in the work every day."
But Johnston pointed out a number of individuals who have shown leadership potential heading into the season.
"Deven Simpson (174) is going to be one of our vocal leaders, showing that he really wants to win and be there every day for practice," Johnston said. "Neiko Kuntz (141) is another leader for us, and Colton Davis (133) and Mitchell Dowd (197) are sophomores who are going to be important parts of our team this year."
Joseph Blanco will be the Panthers' heavyweight wrestler, with Samuel Colebert, Garrett Smead, and Daniel Sibel wrestling at 197 pounds. Quentin Ellis will represent the Panthers at 184, and Brent Wilson and Nick DiStefano will wrestle at 174 pounds.
The Panthers will compete in an independent schedule made up of a combination of duals and tournaments. All Pitt-Bradford wrestlers will have the opportunity to qualify for the NCAA Division III National Wrestling Tournament.
Pitt-Bradford's schedule is made up of 13 different duals and invitationals spanning over four months highlighted by a pair of home events against Thiel and Brockport (Jan. 12) and Penn State-Behrend (Feb. 6).
"Opening and closing our season against Penn State-Behrend is something I'm excited about," Johnston said. "Being a new program last year, they're in a similar situation to us, and their familiarity with all of our other sports will make those events intense. We're going to have some challenges at the open tournaments and invitationals, but that'll be good learning experience for our guys."
Friday's action at Penn State-Behrend will begin at 7 p.m.