Words not heard at a central Pennsylvania wrestling tournament since the 1980s:
Now wrestling on Mat 1 ... Koll.
Once considered among the state’s top wrestling families, the Koll name returned to Pennsylvania mats for last week’s King of the Mountain Tournament at Central Mountain High School. And the results were the same.
Will Koll, a standout from Lansing (N.Y.) High School, captured the 126-pound title with a 7-4 victory over returning PIAA Class AA medalist Ryan Easter of Bedford. Koll, the top seed, pinned his way to the finals.
The junior has a championship pedigree. His father, Rob, was a two-time PIAA finalist at State College High School, winning gold at 155 pounds in 1984. His uncle, Dave, won a PIAA title at 138 pounds in 1977.
Will’s grandfather, Bill, is one of college wrestling’s legendary figures. Bill led Penn State to a 127-22-7 record in 14 seasons as head coach from 1965-78. His demanding ways produced five undefeated seasons and 20 NCAA All-Americans. As a competitor at Iowa State Teachers College, now known as Northern Iowa University, Bill went 72-0 and won three NCAA titles. He died in 2003, leaving behind countless stories of grueling workouts and unusual motivational ploys.
“I feel like I can’t come down here without running into a few people that mention my grandfather,” said Will, a 2011 New York state champion. “I met him when I was real young. I wish I could have gotten to know him better. He was an amazing guy, and I’m honored to able to try to live up to his legacy.”
King of the Mountain represented a family reunion. Will’s grandmother, aunts and uncles attended the tournament. Rob watched the semifinals before rushing to New York City to join his Cornell team, which participated in Sunday’s “Grapple at the Garden.” Will’s mother, Rachel, and younger brother, Daniel, stayed for the finals.
“It almost feels like I have come full circle,” Will said after the tournament. “All my family has grown up here. I have come here many times to visit and now I’m here to wrestle. It’s nice to wrestle in front of people I have connections with.”
The family ties prevented last week from being a solitary pursuit. Koll and fellow state champ Conner Lepresi, who finished second at 138 pounds, were Lansing’s only King of the Mountain entries. Lansing, a small school less than 10 miles from Cornell’s Ithaca, N.Y., campus, is a rebuilding program with two star wrestlers.
The process of Lansing entering the tournament started last summer, when KOM director Norm Palovcsik contacted Rob about the event. Palovcsik, coincidentally, wrestled for Bill at Penn State. Lansing spent the summer searching for a coach, a problem Rob solved by convincing Kris Harrington, the director of the Cornell-based Finger Lakes Wrestling Club, to apply for the position. Harrington immediately endorsed bringing his two best wrestlers to Central Mountain.
“They don‘t get tested a lot in New York,” Harrington said. “That’s why we came here. Results mean very little at this point in the season. It’s getting them ready for our state tournament. Where better to do that than to come down to central Pennsylvania to face this type of competition?”
Harrington’s work at Lansing and with the FLWC, Cornell’s version of the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club, has allowed him to develop a solid relationship with Will. Harrington said Will is the complete package on and off the mat.
“Will is a great person,” Harrington said. “He’s the type of person you would want your daughter to date. He’s a kid that looks out for his teammates, he’s a kid that looks out for his little brother. As a wrestler, I don’t know if you would want to wrestle him. He’s a different kid out there. He’s an animal on top. He’s becoming great in all three positions.”
Training with some of the nation’s best wrestlers, including reigning NCAA champions Kyle Dake and Steve Bosak, aids Will’s development. Dake is aiming for his fourth NCAA title in a fourth different weight class. Bosak, a State College High School graduate, captured his first NCAA title at 184 pounds last season.
“When you grew up at Cornell, like I did at Penn State, you really have no choice,” said Rob, who won an NCAA title at North Carolina. “You’re going to get into wrestling. When your idols are the Cornell wrestlers and Kyle Dake, it’s very natural that you follow that path.”
Will plans on officially joining his father’s successful program in 2014.
“I feel like I have been around it so long that I can’t even look somewhere else,” he said. “As much as I would like to branch out, I feel like Cornell is where I belong.”
Wrestlers are receiving the ideal holiday present next week: The annual two-pound weight allowance.
The date for the allowance has been moved to Dec. 25, a month earlier than previous seasons. The new date means teams can debut new lineups at next week’s holiday tournaments.
“It’s like getting a Christmas gift,” Penns Valley coach Joel Brinker said.
Penns Valley (Newport), Bald Eagle Area (Manheim), Bellefonte (Powerade), Philipsburg-Osceola (Big Dog) and State College (Dale Bock Invitational) are all participating in tournaments next week.