McKendree breaks all-time win mark en-route to second place finish
Winning isn’t only resigned to Charlie Sheen these days.
The No. 15 Gannon University wrestling team showed off its tiger blood as it was able to finish third out of 13 teams in the NCAA Division II Super Regional One held at the Carneval Athletic Pavilion Feb. 25-26.
It was the first time in program history that the Knights, who went 3-1-1 at home this season, hosted the event.
“Being at home made everything that much better,” said redshirt senior Zack McKendree who finished second in the 165-pound weight class. “You don’t have to travel and it puts all the cards in your hands.”
While McKendree approved of the home match, Henry had a different feeling about wrestling at the CAP.
“I’d say it was about 50/50,” Henry said. “It was nice to be comfortable in our gym, the setup was good and the tournament went well, but sometimes it’s nice to walk into a place, wrestle, and not worry about the extra stuff.”
McKendree, who broke into the national rankings after his regional performance, is one of four Gannon wrestlers who earned a trip to the NCAA Division II National Championships in Kearney, Neb. Friday and Saturday.
Junior Jose Matos, redshirt junior Ethan Swope and redshirt senior A.J. Milanak all finished in the top four of their respective weight classes. McKendree and Swope lost in the championship bouts as Milanak and Matos – who is ranked No. 4 in the nation at 125-pounds – earned third- place finishes.
“For me and A.J. this is it,” said McKendree as he and Milanak will end their Gannon wrestling careers in Nebraska. “We have to go out there and wrestle our perfect matches.”
While McKendree’s second- place finish was an achievement in itself, the Vandergrift, Pa., native etched his name in Gannon history as he finally reached the top of the Knights’ all-time wins list.
His 108th career victory came with a 4-3 victory over American International’s Ronald Tetreault in the semifinals. The win was made sweeter by the fact that it served as McKendree’s revenge over a wrestler who defeated him earlier in the season.
“It’s an awesome achievement,” he said. “It’s great to be among the great wrestlers in Gannon history.”
According to Henry, the record wasn’t broken by accident.
“It’s a tribute to how well he’s wrestled for us,” he said. “You don’t get to 100 victories without winning a bunch each year.”
McKendree, whose 32 wins ranks No. 9 on Gannon’s all-time single-season wins list, said that he’d swap it all in for victories in his last few matches of his career.
“You think about it a little bit,” he said. “It’s definitely a bonus to my time here at Gannon but I’d trade it to have a national championship.”
During his career, McKendree has gone 30-7 in dual meets while ranking among only seven other Knights in school history to earn an undefeated 10-win dual season record.
“I think I did pretty well,” said McKendree as he contemplated his time as a Knight. “I came in and hit it off pretty well my freshman and sophomore seasons.”
As McKendree will never forget his Super Regional performance, fellow redshirt senior Tony Petrella will be busy trying to forget his.
The formerly No. 2 nationally-ranked wrestler and tournament No. 1 seed mustered only a fifth-place finish. The 174-pound Petrella, who has been arguably Gannon’s best wrestler all season, will not be participating in the NCAA Championships.
Petrella rounded out his breakout season with a perfect dual meet record but found trouble navigating the field after losing East Stroudsburg’s Jeff Jacobs during the competition’s second day.
In addition to the national qualifiers and Petrella, the Knights had three more wrestlers who earned top-six finishes. Senior John Fleming placed sixth while redshirt sophomores Chris Boyd and Sam Brehm finished sixth and fifth, respectively.
Despite having eight wrestlers place in the top six of their weight classes, Gannon was unable to overcome to Newberry College and the University of Pitt-Johnstown – a team they defeated earlier in the season – for the top two spots.
The Knights were however able to best rival Mercyhurst College and Kutztown University as the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference schools rounded out the top five.
Although the Knights weren’t able to walk away with a regional championship, Henry said he believes that winning the national championship in the four weight classes isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
“We want to go there and have four All-Americans,” he said. “If we wrestle well – with the way the brackets are set up – we can get to the finals. That’s what we’re there to do.”
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