By Jacob Rzempoluch, Sports Editor
Originally Published November 7, 2023
Athletics have been an integral part of the American collegiate system for over a century. At Saint Vincent College (SVC), various athletic teams have formed and disbanded over the years. From 1963-75, SVC fielded a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) wrestling team. After it was dropped as a varsity sport, wrestling continued intermittently as a club sport. After Saint Vincent transitioned to become a Nation Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III team and a member of the Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC), a conference that sponsors wrestling, interest rose in bringing the sport back. On March 10, 2022, SVC announced the return of wrestling to the college.
Dominick Nania, himself a former member of a first year DIII program at Wheeling Jesuit University, was hired to lead the new team after three years as an assistant coach at Seton Hill University. After a year of planning and recruiting, the Bearcats were ready to make their PAC debut in the 2023-24 wrestling season. The Bearcats joined the Washington & Jefferson Presidents, Thiel Tomcats, and Waynesburg Yellowjackets as the fourth conference school to offer wrestling as a varsity sport.
In this year’s preseason coaches' poll, the Bearcats were ranked third in the conference in a tie with the Yellowjackets; the squad received one first place vote, indicating some level of optimism for the new program to see quick success. Three wrestlers were highlighted in the PAC wrestlers to watch list; Chase Brandebura, freshman sports management major; Kyle McCollum, sophomore undeclared major; and Ryan Yocum, freshman business marketing major. The Bearcats also feature a former Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) state champion in Jake Beistel, a senior transfer from Seton Hill.
After an intrasquad scrimmage to kick off the season, the Bearcat travelled to Michigan to compete at the Adrian College Invitational. The Nov. 4 competition featured athletes from 12 different schools. For the majority of the team, this was their first taste of collegiate wrestling.
“It was definitely an eye-opening experience to what college wrestling is and I think that transfers to a lot of the people,” Nick Carter, senior psychology and history double major, said. “We’re a young team, there’s not a lot of people around that can tell us what they’ve been through and how that transition happens.”
Several Bearcats were able to notch their first collegiate wins at the tournament, with a couple of Bearcats. Freshman Ryan Klingensmith led the team with three wins and a fifth-place finish in the 133-pound weight class. Freshman Sean Cain also finished fifth in the 125-pound class and freshman health science major Tyler Debnar placed seventh in the 141-pound class, both winning two matches. Brandebura, Liam Flanigan, freshman health science major, and George Noutai, sophomore nursing major, also won a match.
The wrestling team is optimistic about their debut season, with a focus on being at their best at the end of the season. This year’s PAC championship will be hosted by Washington & Jefferson on Feb. 16.
“I think Coach Dom is really working hard to prepare us well,” Carter said. “I think he knows what he expects from us and doesn’t let that drop. Everything he does is to prepare us for something specific.”
The Bearcats will host Penn State Behrend on Nov. 14 for their first dual match of the season. Each competition is another opportunity for the wrestling team to build a strong foundation for the future of Bearcat wrestling.