Saegertown High School is no stranger to exciting wrestling.
It was just 2015 that the Panthers faithful came out in force to watch as Tyler Vath posted a 43-7 mark on his way to placing second at 138 pounds in the PIAA Class 2A state tournament. That same year, Dylan Reynolds dropped in with a 50-0 mark as he went on to win the PIAA Class 2A 195 pound title and tie Vath for the school’s all-time wins mark at 167 victories.
Then there was 2017 and 2018. Cody Mulligan went a combined 86-3 on his way to breaking that wins mark (he finished with 169 victories for his career) and win back-to-back 182-pound class 2A state titles.
But what is to happen on Nov. 8 may top all of that.
“There is a lot of excitement already,” said Saegertown head coach Jim Mulligan. “And there will be more excitement as the date approaches. It is a chance to get some people in this gym that wouldn’t normally watch an Edinboro match. And I think there will be some carryover as they start going to Edinboro to watch wrestling.”
The big deal is a match between Edinboro and visiting Wisconsin, currently ranked No. 3 in the nation. That is correct, a pair of Division I’s top wrestling programs are going to set up shop in the Saegertown gymnasium. And making the event even bigger, there is the possibility that Vath (149 pounds), Reynolds (197) and Cody Mulligan (184) could all be in the Fighting Scots’ lineup.
“I know some of the teachers here are excited because they rarely got to see those guys wrestle big matches here,” said Mulligan. “A lot of the time (in high school) teams were ducking them or just flat out forfeiting the match.”
There will be other area wrestlers in the gym that night.
Cambridge Springs standout Tye Varndell, the PIAA Class 2A 132-pound runner-up this past year, could win his wrestle-off at 133 pounds. Former McDowell standout Carmen Ciotti also has a shot at 141 pounds. And while the chances are slimmer, former District 10 wrestlers and PIAA place-winners Peyton Hearn (Conneaut Area, 6th at 152 in 2018) and Hunter Thompson (Titusville, 4th at 120 pounds in 2019) will be in the Fighting Scots’ corner.
“And all wrestled within (40 miles) of Saegertown High School,” said Edinboro head coach Matt Hill. “So it is great to get Division I athletes into that gym. Especially with three of those kids wrestling there in high school.”
It turns out, this kind of thing is nothing new.
Hill said that many NCAA programs have held matches at the high schools of a prominent wrestler that had matriculated to the college team. For example, in 2017 Ohio State held a match against Indiana at Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy, the alma mater of Nathan Tomasello. That same year, the Buckeyes wrestled a match at Graham High School in St. Paris, Ohio. The year before, they had a home match against Maryland at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, Md. because it was the alma mater of three-time National Champion Kyle Snyder.
“And there are other teams doing it all over the country all the time,” said Hill. “It is just a cool thing to do for the sport of wrestling. And hopefully it helps out a school like Saegertown.”
But how did this all come about?
Turns out, it was strictly by chance. Mulligan said he had suggested this to Hill when Hill accepted the job at Edinboro. Hill was on board, but wasn’t sure when they would be able to do it. Enter Wisconsin ...
“Wisconsin is wrestling Buffalo University on Nov. 7,” said Mulligan. “Their head coach (Chris Bono) called Matt about wrestling the following day.”
“And we are excited to have a team like Wisconsin come in,” said Hill. “It is a new coaching staff and a great set of guys. So when I brought it up, they were excited to be a part of it.”
“It worked out great for us,” said Mulligan. “It’s our preseason and the gym was wide open.”
And it’s been almost too easy to put together.
The last several weeks have been spent working out the logistics of holding a Division I match in a high school gymnasium. The biggest issue is making sure nothing is missing. Wrestling in college is a bit different than at high school, especially when factoring in riding time. It turns out, most of those issues were simple to solve.
“It’s all simple stuff,” said Hill. “We are going to bring our mat in, our riding time clock. Our sports information department will be making the (programs). Jim (Mulligan) and his youth program are running the rest, really.”
“We are handling all the ticket sales,” said Mulligan. “And we are trying to make sure it is a nice event for everyone involved.
“And ... when you get a match that matters in this gym, it is packed. It is a madhouse.”
That might be the thing Hill is most looking forward too.
“It is going to be very intimate in (the Saegertown gym),” said the second-year head coach. “Its going to be pitch dark with one light on. And with Wisconsin ranked No. 3 in the country right now, it is going to be a pretty good showcase for us.”