By Todd Stanford
The Daily Item
Last year, Bucknell’s Joe Stolfi had to go alone. This year, he’s bringing a friend.
Stolfi and teammate Paul Petrov both qualified for the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, which begin this Thursday in Oklahoma City.
Stolfi, a 285-pounder, is back after missing All-American status last year by one match. Petrov, a sophomore 125-pounder, is making his first appearance at the national championships.
“Petrov’s been working his heart out all year,” Stolfi said. “He deserves to be there. We were hoping for him to come. This year, he’s looking to make some noise too.”
When it comes to making noise at nationals, Stolfi knows of what he speaks. The Souderton High graduate won three matches last year and was one win away from All-American status (the top eight). And he accomplished all that in his first full year of collegiate wrestling. (Stolfi, a junior, injured his pectoral muscle early in his freshman campaign; he expects to get a medical redshirt and wrestle two more seasons after this one.)
“It was a good run,” Stolfi said. “I fell one short, though.”
Although he wrestled at 215 in high school, Stolfi has made the transition to heavyweight.
“I wasn’t used to wrestling guys that were up to 285,” he said. “But once I got through the transition, it definitely worked out for me.”
It’s worked out to the tune of a 33-6 record this season. Stolfi wrestles his opener Thursday against Oregon State’s Amarveer Dhesi (26-7). As luck would have it, the two met last year in a freestyle competition in Las Vegas.
“I ended up wrestling him in my first freestyle match ever,” said Stolfi, who lost the match. “I actually ended up watching that match this week to pick up a few things ... just to remind myself what kind of movement he does.”
Since arriving in Lewisburg, Stolfi has been focusing on transitioning in his attack.
“A lot of times what separates a good wrestler from a very good wrestler is being able to go from one move to the next,” he says. “I thought I was pretty good at those things, only to learn that I had so much to work on.”
Petrov (30-7), a former Indiana state champion, is heading into nationals with confidence. He was a combined 4-2 this season against the other 125-pounders in the field. He also feels he’s at a more natural weight after wrestling at 133 last season.
“At 133, I was undersized,” he says. “This year ... being at 125 felt good. I controlled my weight and I felt like I was decent size for 125 pounds.”
Not only that, but Petrov believes that he’s doing more of the little things one needs to do to be successful at the collegiate level.
“From last year to this year I matured mentally,” he says. “It was just doing the right thing from nutrition to doing the extra workouts.”
His extra workouts add up to an extra 90 minutes per week with assistant coach Jarrod Garnett. Garnett, a recent Virginia Tech graduate, also knows a thing or two about Petrov’s opponent — Virginia Tech’s Joey Dance (23-8).
“He practiced with (Dance),” Petrov says. “He knows exactly how he wrestles. ... I know what the kid does on his feet and top and bottom. I’m pretty prepared.”
In addition to the two Bison who will be in action at nationals this week, there will also be three other wrestlers with area ties.
Selinsgrove graduate Spencer Myers — who won the state title at 215 in 2010 — will wrestle in the heavyweight division for Maryland. He could end up facing Stolfi.
Line Mountain alum Jon Fausey will represent Virginia at 184, and former Line Mountain grappler Zain Retherford will wrestle for Penn State at 141.