Wildcat Isaac Cory battles a SUNY Oneonta wrestler. Cory went 18-4 and became the first Penn College wrestler to advance to the NCAA Division III National Championship.
by Matt Blymier, assistant director of athletics for compliance and athletic communications. Photos by Blymier and Ralph Wilson
Wrestler battles his way to nationals after surgery
Despite being undefeated and nationally ranked, Isaac Cory wasn’t with his team as it prepared to face King’s College in a regular-season dual meet in mid-December of 2022.
The heralded freshman was grappling with another opponent.
Cory, who won the 2022 189-pound PIAA championship for Montoursville Area High School, was getting out of surgery to repair an abdominal hernia that had begun as a gradual pain early in the season and became unbearable at the midway point of his rookie campaign. Cory’s thoughts, however, were with his teammates.
“Right before our King’s match, I received a text from Isaac’s dad of a picture of Isaac in the hospital bed right after surgery. He had a smile on his face and was giving thumbs up,” recalled Penn College coach Pankil Chander. “He wanted to check in, show support for the team and let us know he was good.”
Over the next few months, Cory’s journey from a hospital bed to the floor of the Berglund Center in Salem, Virginia, representing Penn College as the first-ever wrestler to reach the NCAA Division III National Championships, was equal parts frustrating and rewarding.
“It was rough at first,” Cory admitted. “There’s ‘starting from scratch,’ but with my injury, I was starting ‘before scratch.’ I had no core muscles, but I knew I had to work through it and adjust. Something unplanned always happens in wrestling. You must adjust.”
For the next four weeks, Cory gradually worked back into wrestling shape. He was limited early in the rehab process to riding a stationary bike and light cardio. Eventually he was permitted to shadow-wrestle and participate in light weightlifting sessions, before being given the OK to have contact in practice in mid-January – less than a month before the NCAA Division III Mideast Regionals.
Cory, the coaching staff and athletic training staff planned to be “studious with his matches,” according to Chander, as Cory eased his way back to full strength. He wrestled just once in a home quad meet in early February before being allowed to fully participate in a Feb. 11 tri-meet with Rochester Institute of Technology and SUNY Oneonta. Cory wrestled RIT’s eventual all-American Colby Giroux, who Cory had beaten earlier in the season, and fell 3-1 in sudden victory. Despite the loss, his first of the season, it was clear that Cory was back.
“Even at 70%, he went up against a regionally ranked kid and went to overtime,” Chander said. “That let us know that he was going to be fine.”
“That match was important because I was able to just wrestle and not worry about the injury,” Cory said. “It showed us where I was physically and what changes I needed to make to be successful at regionals.”
Two weeks later Cory met Giroux again in the regional championship and fell 3-2. Cory, however, had punched his ticket to the NCAA Championship. Cory was the only freshman in the 184-pound bracket, and he finished 1-2 in the tournament.
“It’s very rare to have a freshman at nationals at 184 pounds,” Chander explained. “That proved how tough of a competitor Isaac is and how skilled of a wrestler he is.”
Cory finished his freshman season with an 18-4 record – with two losses coming to an all-American, one to a three-time national qualifier, and the fourth at the hands of a two-time national champion – and was named to the d3wrestling.com all-freshman team.
But his journey is just beginning.
“I’ll be back stronger next year,” Cory said. “This year had some challenges, but wrestling is all about preparing for the worst and adapting.”
Men’s basketball player Gavin Barrett ’25 led the United East Conference in both points per game and assists per game and became the first player in the NCAA era to earn first team all-conference.
The women’s basketball team made the United East postseason for the first time in program history. Rachel Teats ’25 earned second-team all-conference honors.
The Wildcats’ wrestling program also had many program firsts in 2022-23, which was highlighted when Isaac Cory ’26 became the first wrestler in program history to advance to the NCAA Division III National Championships. Cory placed second at the Mideast Regionals, while Noah Hunt and Ryan Berstler placed sixth and seventh, respectively. Hunt and Berstler also earned National Wrestling Coaches Association Scholar All-American honors and joined Mason Leshock ’26 and Patrick Snoke ‘23 on the Empire Collegiate Wrestling Conference All-Conference team.
Three Penn College student-athletes earned the inaugural United East Elite 14 award. The award honors the student-athlete with the highest grade-point average from teams competing in each conference championship tournament.
Kayleigh Miller ’25 earned the conference’s women’s basketball Elite 14 award, Gavin Baer ’25 was named the men’s golf Elite 14 recipient, and Alyssa Rusnock ’23 took home softball’s Elite 14 honors.
Penn College was one of just three institutions with multiple selections.
Penn College raised the conference championship trophy for the second time in three years in men’s golf. Peyton Mussina ’25 finished second overall and earned United East first-team honors, while Gunner Redmond ’26 and Will Orwig ’25 were named to the second team, and Rob Lytle received the Coach of the Year award. The Wildcats won two tournaments during the season, while Mussina had seven top five finishes.
The baseball program made its fourth trip to the conference finals since Penn College joined the conference in 2015. The Wildcats earned a runner-up finish and placed four players on the all-conference team. Brian Robison ’23, Jacob Carles ’23, Chance Webb ’23, and Zac Weaver ’25 earned second-team honors, while head coach Chris Howard was named Coach of the Year.
Penn College’s softball team won the conference regular season for the third straight year after a 20-4 mark in the United East. The Wildcats finished third in the conference tournament and had four allconference selections. MacKenzie Weaver ’24 and Maddie Hurst ’23 were named to the first team, while Jordan Specht ’23 and Ivvy Morder ’24 earned second-team honors. Weaver was named United East Pitcher of the Year after posting a 0.96 earned run average and firing both a perfect game and a no-hitter during the season.
The lacrosse team reached the conference postseason for the third straight year after a program-record 11-win season. Six Wildcats earned all-conference honors: Camden Elmo ’26 was named to the first team, and Quinn Caviola ’24, Michael Stank ’24, Sam Hills ’25, Mason Nester ’25, and Colten Hajicek ’26 landed on the second team.