Cardinal Wrestlers Ready to Make Statement at Regionals

WHEELING, W.Va. - The last 12 months have been quite the journey for the Wheeling Jesuit Wrestling program. At this point a year ago, Head Coach Sean Doyle was making his first visits to high school campuses, seeking out his inaugural class of Cardinals.

Fast forward a year, and Coach Doyle will be leading his 11th ranked troops into battle at the Super Region 1 Championships at Pitt-Johnstown this weekend, to see where his first year program will match up against some of the nation's best.

"The past year, it's been a blast," said Coach Doyle. "(The team) is growing up, they're getting better at their wrestling, they're learning to manage their time, they're learning to manage their wrestling better, and they're becoming more mature. It's a long process, but we're getting there."

One of the standouts for WJU that will be pushing for a birth to nationals is freshman Sawyer Leppla (Cambridge, Ohio) who is wrestling at 174, a weight-class up from where he started the year at 165. Leppla comes into the regional meet as the only Cardinal currently ranked in the top six.

"We're pushing ourselves every day in here. Training hard, but training smart, hoping that we're prepared for regionals," said Leppla. "We haven't really seen that level of competition yet. We've had a taste of it, but not the full thing… so we're nervous, but excited."

Leppla and his teammates will be testing their mettle against a tough field of competitors where 9 out of the 10 weight classes feature at least one national ranked wrestler.

Jesuit Coach Sean Doyle

"This time of year is what everybody works for. For 12 months, people are preparing for this weekend," added Doyle. "It's even more unique for us because we're trying to establish our first national qualifiers in program history. "

For a program that didn't exist at this time last year, Coach Doyle has been able to establish a program that will bring a wrestler to fill each of the 10 weight classes in the tournament. According to Doyle, the Cardinals aren't going just to make up numbers either. The goal is to reach nationals.

"Our guys are motivated. We're getting a lot of extra individual work in this week… we're excited."

Other Cardinals to keep an eye on include Maxwell Lacey, a 197lb freshman from Canal Winchester, Ohio who has seen time in the top six rankings this season. Ryan Winslow (Jeannette, Penn.) has also spent time in the regional rankings at 197 and is expected to turn heads.

"We're eager to get a chance at that national tournament and bet that first national qualifier," Leppla said of his teammates. "Every match we're in, we're the underdogs. We have nothing to lose but, everything to gain. To be the first national qualifier for Jesuit would be huge."

Making out of this region takes a special wrestler however, with 14 of the nation's top ranked individuals battling for a spot in the NCAA Division II National Tournament, including Notre Dame's Joey Davis (174 lbs.) and Kutztown's Ziad Haddad (285 lbs.), who both hold the No.1-rankings in their respective weight classes.

Overall, Notre Dame boasts six wrestlers nationally ranked and East Stroudsburg, Gannon, and Pitt-Johnstown each have two ranked wrestlers.

Session one of wrestling will begin on Saturday at 11 a.m. and will consist of the First Round, Quarterfinals and the First and Second Round of the Consolations.

On Sunday, Session II will begin at 10 a.m. with the Semifinals, Consolation Quarterfinals and the Consolation Semifinals, followed by Session III at 2 p.m. Session III will feature the Consolation Finals and Finals.

Tickets are $7.00 for adults and $4.00 for Senior Citizens and students per session. Children under 10-years-of-age will be admitted free. Tickets will only be sold by the session. All-Tournament passes and complimentary tickets will not be available.

Brackets for this year's tournament will be released following a coaches' meeting Friday evening. Results will be updated on the Pitt-Johnstown athletics website following each session.

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