Even though his team fell 42-3 to the Nittany Lions, Bucknell wrestling coach Dan Wirnsberger said Friday night’s match in front of 4,279 fans was still a win.
“Before the match even started, it was a win; just with the anticipation of it, knowing we were going to set a record for Bucknell wrestling, putting 4,200 butts in the stands to watch a wrestling match,” he said. “There were people who came to watch this wrestling match tonight that have never seen a wrestling match before. I’ve had dozens of people tell me that, and that’s great for the program.”
The attendance not only set a record for the most people to watch a wresting match at Bucknell, but it was also the third-largest crowd ever at Sojka Pavilion, home to Bucknell’s men’s and women’s basketball teams. The only two events with higher attendance were men’s basketball games against powerhouse Villanova and Wake Forest.
Selling out the basketball arena had been a dream of Bucknell wrestling’s benefactor Bill Graham since 14 years ago, when he first brought the idea up to Wirnsberger on a trip to Florida shortly after the program had been reinstated to its varsity status.
Even though it took a little longer than anticipated to realize that dream, Wirnsberger said it was worth it to see the excitement on Graham’s face while at the match and the events leading up to it, it was worth it to see the pride from the alumni base, and for the opportunity to promote the Bucknell wrestling program and the sport of wrestling in central Pennsylvania and Buffalo Valley.
“At the end of the day, it’s about the sport of wrestling and the sport of wrestling here in central Pennsylvania, and it’s important. It’s an important sport in this area, and if we can put a good product together, and a good event together here at Bucknell, that’s fantastic for everyone who’s involved,” Wirnsberger said.
Despite being a home match for Bucknell, there were a lot of blue and white shirts in the crowd on Friday night. However, the crowd roared with applause as people jumped out of their seats, pumping their fists in the air when Bucknell got its lone win of the evening, a 10-5 decision by D.J. Hollingshead over Bo Pipher, who was filling in for a reportedly sick Vincenzo Joseph at 165 pounds.
Hollingshead, a senior from Altoona, grew up rooting for Penn State, and said wrestling at Rec Hall last year — though not the outcome he wanted, losing by technical fall to Joseph — was a dream.
“This year we got to wrestle them again, in our home stadium, and I got the ‘W’ and that felt great. It felt great to win against Penn State,” he said.
There were times on Friday night, when it was hard to tell which team the crowd was rooting for. Penn State 157-pounder Jason Nolf got one of the biggest applauses of the night when he ran out onto the mat, but so did Bucknell freshman Zach Hartman when he took down the two-time national champ.
“I think a lot of Penn State fans are Bucknell fans, and hopefully Bucknell fans are Penn State fans, unless we’re going head to head, but I know a lot of Penn State fans are definitely cheering for Bucknell when they’re not competing against Penn State,” Nittany Lions head coach Cael Sanderson said.
That sentiment was true for the members of the Camp Hill High School wrestling team, who left practice early Friday night to make the 64-mile trip to Lewisburg with their coaches.
Junior Brendan Foerster donned a blue-and-orange Bucknell sweatshirt for the dual, saying he usually roots for Penn State, but was pulling for the underdog.
“I want to see a close match,” he said shortly before the dual began. “It probably won’t be, but that’d be cool if Bucknell could get some.”
His teammate Joseph Carey said he’s more of a Penn State fan, and was mostly excited to see the Nittany Lions compete live for the first time.
“I’m just looking forward to seeing everything happen in live action, because usually I see it on TV and I think it’s really cool now that I can see it happening right there.”
Although Wirnsberger said he’s grateful for Penn State and Sanderson honoring their part of the two-year commitment and coming to wrestle at Sojka, he said it might be awhile before they think about renewing the series again.
“Maybe once they get some of those guys off their roster,” he said, laughing.