Penn College wrestling celebrates season of success
Talk about a tall order in his first NCAA Division III National Championship appearance.
Pennsylvania College of Technology freshman Isaac Cory (17-2) was scheduled to wrestle his opening match in the 184-pound weight class against Alvernia University’s Isaac Kassis, who has more than 30 wins this season, with top-seeded defending champion Jaritt Shinhoster, of Wisconsin-Whitewater (29-2) awaiting the winner.
The challenge doesn’t get much bigger than that.
Facing Kassis on Friday morning, Cory won 3-1 with a sudden victory takedown.
That pitted him against Shinhoster, who scored a fall in 40 seconds and sent the Wildcat into the consolations.
Facing eighth-seeded Edwin Morales, of Bridgewater State University, on Friday night, Cory dropped a 13-5 major decision to close out an 18-4 season that took Penn College wrestling to new heights, including his second-place finish at the NCAA Mideast Regional, becoming the first wrestler in program history to reach the NCAA Championships and earning the college its first team point at the national event, tied for 52nd in a 71-team field.
Shinhoster went on to successfully defend his 184 crown, and Augsburg University took the team title with 101 points.
“It was an excellent and program-altering experience for Penn College wrestling to be represented at the NCAA D-III Championships,” first-year coach Pankil Chander said. “Isaac actualized a lifetime goal of competing at this prestigious event. Many talented college wrestlers work their whole lives to make it to the Big Dance and never do, so the experience in and of itself was a memorable one, especially since he was the first one in program history.
“Isaac opened his inaugural NCAA appearance by taking down Southeast Region champion Kassis in sudden victory to advance to the round of 16.
“He then ran into the top seed, two-time NCAA Champion, and three-time All-American Shinhoster. Shinhoster repeated as a champion on Saturday night and was voted the Most Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament for his dominant championship run. It was clearly a tough draw for Isaac in his first championship outing, but I’m glad he earned himself an opportunity to compete against someone of that caliber.
“He then suffered a tough loss to three-time NCAA Qualifier Morales to conclude his freshman campaign.
“Isaac had a head-to-head win over 2023 All-American Colby Giroux, of RIT, and a common opponent win over two-time NCAA All-American Mahlic Sallah, of Roanoke, when he beat Kassis. He has definitely proven he is All-American caliber.
“We’re incredibly proud of Isaac. He didn’t have much time to recover after his late-December surgery and found a way to still make it to the national tournament. I think we’d see different results if he didn’t miss two full months of training and competing. He was the only freshman in the 184-pound national bracket. His future is bright!”
Cory’s accomplishments this season:
- 18-4 record (three losses were to All-Americans, a two-time NCAA Champion and the fourth loss was to a three-time NCAA Qualifier).
- 2023 NCAA D-III Championship Qualifier (First in program history).
- 2023 NCAA Mideast Regional Finalist.
- Ned McGinley Invitational champion.
- Only freshman to qualify for the 184-pound NCAA Championships field.
- Top 16 in the country (in his Division III weight class).
“Overall, we grew in various ways as a contingent,” Chander continued. “(We have) higher belief in oneself and their teammates, consistent accountability, a more competitive training environment, stronger performances, and most importantly, we learned how to be resilient amid adversity.
“We hit performance milestones – first winning dual season (in the NCAA era), two top-five tournament team finishes, multiple individual tournament titles, first NCAA berth, strong team GPA, largest home crowd in program history, organically tripled our following on social media. There is a lot to be proud of.
“We’re only just beginning to realize how competitive we can be as a young team and program.
“The future is bright!”
All athletic programs are built on steppingstones and Penn College wrestling is proof of that.
The program was birthed at the Williamsport Area Community College (Penn College’s forerunner) by coach Dale Sullivan in 1968-69, whose team went 5-3 in dual matches.
Max Wasson came on board and coached the Wildcats from 1969 through ’82, going 95-39-1 and winning numerous conference championships.
Ed Roadarmel was the coach in 1982-83 when the Wildcats went 1-7 and produced the team’s last dual meet win before the sport was suspended.
After a 28-year lapse, Penn College’s next dual meet win came on Nov. 16, 2011, a year after coach Schuyler Frey helped revive the program.
It’s obvious what Chander and Cory have brought to the team this season, but Frey is quick to acknowledge one of his first-year wrestlers, Tyler Myers, of Centre Hall, as the catalyst for the program’s resumption in 2010.
“He constantly went to the AD asking for the program. I was just lucky enough to get hired and pull it all together,” Frey said.
“It’s really neat to run into guys from the Williamsport Area Community College (Penn College forerunner) days that wrestled for coach (Max) Wasson and they’re excited (about what is happening now), too. They’re all excited to see what is going on with the program and the milestones they are achieving,” Frey said.
After Frey resigned in 2017 with a 29-55 career record, Jamie Miller took over the reins from 2017-18 through last season, guiding the team as it became NCAA postseason-eligible to a 30-69 mark and seeing five of his wrestlers reach the D-III regional podium – two of them finishing fourth, just one win shy of the Big Dance.
Miller, now in a position at SUNY Morrisville, was well aware of this season’s happenings and said, “I’m exceptionally happy for Isaac. I had the privilege of getting to know him and his family the last two years. Watching him win a state title as a senior was one of my favorite moments as a coach. Few guys work harder than Isaac and he deserves all the success that comes his way.
“That said, we always said that our first national qualifier would be a team accomplishment. No one gets to this point without great coaching, great practice partners and great team leaders.
“Now that the glass ceiling has been shattered, I hope the floodgates of success will open. There are quite a few guys on this roster that are capable of breaking through next year. The outlook is extremely promising and I’m really proud of coach Chander and assistant coach Jesse Walker for the job they have done and the success they’ve brought to the program this year.”
A four-year wrestling starter at Wilkes University from 2013-17, Chander came to Williamsport this season after spending the previous two seasons as the assistant coach at Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts. Out of college, he spent a year as a volunteer assistant coach at Bloomsburg University and then two seasons as the assistant coach at Gettysburg College.
“I like to take a holistic approach to coaching and developing student-athletes,” Chander said last fall. “When thinking big picture, it means learning about who they are, what they value and how they can leverage their lived experiences to develop leadership skills that will transcend their time as student-athletes.
“In a more immediate sense, it means intentionally designing a training environment and culture that facilitates a way of thinking that is independent, critical and positive. In its simplest form, student-athletes need a team setting in which they can have a sense of belonging, autonomy and develop competence and confidence. I hope to foster that.
“We want to have student-athletes that have a growth mindset, so there’s been a strong intention on building a culture of curiosity, mutual learning and inviting challenges in as an opportunity to grow.
“Internally, one significant key is to heighten the belief and overall level of commitment within our team. We have many skilled wrestlers on this team, and we are now training, thinking, interacting and living our lives in a way that is preparing them to help this program experience new heights.
“On the recruiting front, it’s about building exposure and educating the wrestling community on the positive evolution of our very young wrestling program and how we separate ourselves as an institution.
“When I took the helm in mid-June, it seemed there were many people who didn’t know that we had a wrestling program or may still think that we are a two-year school. Every wrestler on our team is a four-year bachelor’s student and we are heading into our fifth season a NCAA (postseason-eligible) program with a brand-new wrestling room that was built in 2021; a full-time head coach; and have nationally leading hands-on, applied technology, four-year degree programs.
“Once they understand the momentum this program has generated, they are more excited about the future and the excellent return on investment they can receive with a degree from Penn College. Momentum on the recruiting trail is a major element to building this program.
“I talk to the team often about having a growth mindset and us all having the same definition of commitment. If we can heighten the belief of every student-athlete’s ability to respond well to challenges and belief in themselves as competitors, then I’ll consider it a success.
“(The) Same goes for commitment; I think human beings naturally tend to have their own definition of what commitment looks like. However, I’ve certainly emphasized the importance of our team operating under the same definition of commitment so we can move everyone toward a higher level of commitment. If we can do that consistently and create an experience they take pride in, then I’ll consider it a success.
“Lastly, we also want to build community around the program. (In October) we had an incredible turnout of families, supporters and friends of the program make a trip to campus just to watch the team practice and come enjoy a social gathering after for fellowship. The support that our team felt that day, and the desire for our families and supporters to want to be a part of the day shows us that we have an experience that people want to be a part of – I’ll also chalk that up as a success.”
As it turns out, success this season was achieved in all of those areas and more!
Friday-Saturday, March 10-11 – NCAA Division III Championships at Roanoke, Va., tied for 52nd in a 71-team field
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