Wheeling Jesuit matmen pull off upset

WHEELING — The Danny Irwin era at Wheeling Jesuit University couldn’t have gotten off to a better start as his team not only presented their first-year head coach with his initial victory at the Ohio County school, but did it in upset fashion.

The No. 23 Cardinals won four of the final six matches Thursday night to knock off visiting University of Indianapolis, which entered the match as the 10th-ranked NCAA Division II squad, 20-16, inside a raucous Alma Grace McDonough Center on the Wheeling Jesuit campus.

“I’m really excited about the effort these guys put out tonight. There were a lot of matches that you could see could’ve went one way or the other, and our guys dug in and fought for positions,” Irwin said. “I was really excited about what they did tonight.

“It’s always nice to have a crowd like this … that’s one of the things that excited me about coming to Wheeling Jesuit was the campus support, the community support and the overall support from the Ohio Valley that makes it that much more exciting. It heats it up in here.”

Red-shirt senior Sawyer Leppla put the bow on Irwin’s successful debut when he earned a 5-1 decision over Jordan Collins at 197 pounds that gave the hosts an insurmountable, 20-13, advantage.

The former Bobcat standout, who qualified for the NCAA nationals in 2016 before taking last year off, led 2-1 after one period before increasing the margin to the final with an escape and takedown in the second period.

“It’s very exciting,” Leppla said of being able to give Coach Irwin a win in his first match. “Taking a year off can be difficult. Keeping your mind and whatnot, but getting back out on the mat felt great. I’ve just got to piece together a couple of things and get my weight under control.

“We just beat the No. 10 team in the country. It was a great win,” he added. “We’ve got a lot of good takeaways from this.”

“Sawyer has been doing a lot of good things in the (wrestling) room and to have a book-end of guys like Sawyer and Terrance (Fanning) that have been to the national tournament, it’s a nice thing as a coach to have that kind of thing at the backend of your lineup,” Irwin added. “We’ve talked about this match being a stepping stone from Day 1. We’re going to use this and learn from it, and, hopefully, carry it over to Saturday (at Washington & Jefferson Invitational) when we get our entire team a chance to compete, which I’m pumped about,” he continued.

Trailing 10-6 after four matches, WJU freshman Connor Craig gave his team the lead for good when he posted an 18-3 technical fall at the 6:32 mark of his 157-pound match.

“That was something we’ve seen from Day 1 with him,” Irwin said of his freshman from Cincinnati Elder. “That’s his attitude whether it’s wrestling, lifting, running or handball. That guy’s a competitor. That was no surprise out there. His attitude he brings to the mat … he was hungry. We need more of that from everybody.”

Other Cardinals winners were senior D.J. Warner (133) who scored the matches’ only pin; red-shirt junior Keegan Driscoll (165) and freshman Aiden Pasiuk (184). Warner, the second-ranked former Claymont standout, just beat the buzzer with his 6:57 fall. He’s a two-time All American. Driscoll won 8-5 over a two-time national qualifier and Pasiuk, a state champion from Carrollton, earned a 7-5 nod in his first collegiate bout.

Wheeling Jesuit 20, Univ. of Indianapolis 16

125–Smith (UI) d. T. Warner, 4-1; 133-D. Warner (WJU) p. Abduljelil, 6:57; 141–Crume (UI) d. Donahue, 6-3; 149–Barkovich (UI) md. Taylor, 12-3; 157–Craig (WJU) tf. Vaughn, 6:32; 165–Driscoll (WJU) d. Struble, 8-5; 174–Whitaker (UI) d. Wallbrown, 7-1; 184–Pasiuk (WJU) d. Conner, 7-5; 197–Leppla (WJU) d. Collins, 5-1; HWT–Faulkenberg (UI) d. Fanning, 3-2