Kittanning to rely on strong core of seniors to lead the way |
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Kittanning freshman Jacob Robb (right) wrestles West Shamokin sophomore Brenden Glover during a 170-pound bout at Kittanning High School on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013.

Penn State-bound senior Jason Nolf is Kittanning’s most decorated wrestler, but the Wildcats wrestling team runs deeper.

Kittanning brings back seven wrestlers who advanced to last year’s WPIAL Class AA individual tournament, and that group is at the heart of a team aiming for another successful season.

Nolf was last year’s state champion at 132 pounds, and he, heavyweight Dave Grafton and Elliot Zydonik, who took eighth at WPIALs while wrestling at 170 pounds, are the three seniors among the returning group of WPIAL qualifiers.

“They’re working hard, and we have some good numbers, but we also have some holes to fill (in the lineup),” Kittanning coach Brandon Newill said. “It takes a while to get to midseason form, and we’ve got some inexperienced guys. That core group is who we’re going to lean on to help bring the others along.”

Junior Logan Robb and three sophomores — Brandon Malia, Nick Croyle and Jacob Robb — are Kittanning’s other returnees from last year’s WPIAL tournament. Newill hopes to get some others, such as sophomore Nate Zukovich, advancing beyond the sectional round.

“We have some guys who are right on the cusp. There’s a learning curve, but we’re looking for guys like that to make the next step,” Newill said.

Although Kittanning has reached at least the quarterfinal round of the WPIAL team tournament in each of the last four seasons, Newill doesn’t view that as a team goal. Instead, he wants each of his wrestlers to focus on improvement and let the team results come along with that.

“I would never put expectations like that on our guys, because that’s not realistic,” Newill said. “They know what they need to do in practice and in school, and when we get to that point of the season, we’ll be ready.”

Nolf’s importance to the team can’t be understated, as the two-time state champion makes multiple contributions.

Not only is the senior a reliable win — usually by fall — during team matches, he also sets the bar high for his teammates in practice and even serves as a recruiting tool for Kittanning’s younger wrestling teams.

“What happens in the room is that it’s my job to push him, and everybody else has to try to get to his level. People see how hard he works, and even when he’s gone next year, they’re going to remember how hard we worked to get to that point,” Newill said. “Jason is a great voice to have in there, even though he’s not a super-vocal guy. He’s someone that the younger guys, even down in the Junior Olympic program, can look up to.”

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.

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