The 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003 seasons were some great years for the State College wrestling program.
The Little Lions won three straight Northwest Regional team titles and four straight District 6 team duals championships. In 2001, they finished as runner-up in the PIAA team duals and third in the PIAA tournament. Their second-place finish at the state tournament in 2002 is the highest ever. They followed that up with another third-place finish in the state tournament.
Also in that span, State College crowned three PIAA champions. Nathan Galloway was a three-time champion at 140 (2000), 145 (2001) and 152 pounds (2002) and Matt Kocher at 140 pounds (2003).
Matt Storniolo was the third champion for the Little Lions at 145 pounds in 2002. He went undefeated in his first and only year with State College. When he was finished, Storniolo had a 159-7 record.
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He transferred to the area after competing for three years at The Haverford School, which is an all boys prep school just outside of Philadelphia. It was a move that at the time came under scrutiny and speculation due to PIAA rules.
“It had always been a dream of mine to wrestle in the PIAAs,” Storniolo said, “because it’s such a more competitive tournament than the prep nationals. Getting close to the end of my junior year, we decided that I was going to explore what my options would be for going to a public school.”
At the time, Storniolo had a sister enrolled at Penn State. He was also considering going to Penn State after he graduated.
“My family decided to move up to State College,” he explained. “Part of the reason was to be closer to my sister and to give me a closer look at Penn State as my choice for college. It gave me an opportunity to wrestle at PIAAs and State College had a good team at that time too.”
At the time, State College was led by District 6 Hall of Fame coach Len Rockey. He admitted that he didn’t know much about Storniolo, but he enjoyed coaching him.
“One of the things that stands out,” Rockey said, “very tenacious. He was one not to give up. Obviously, like a lot of other champions he worked hard off the mat in the practice room to make sure that he would do well in front of a crowd. It was very pleasant to know that the rumors were true about how good he was.”
Fast forward to 2015.
At the end of October, Storniolo was named the interim head coach for Northwestern’s program. He has been part of the Wildcats’ staff since 2009 and worked closely with the middleweights. Prior to his years with Northwestern, Storniolo served as a volunteer assistant with Old Dominion for two years.
“It means everything to me,” he said. “That’s the ultimate goal as an assistant coach, is to get to the point where you have your own program. When you have the opportunity to be the coach of a Big Ten program, it means that much more. This is like a dream come true for me.”
On Sunday, No. 1 Penn State will square of with Storniolo’s Wildcats at 2 p.m. inside Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Storniolo wrestled for the Nittany Lions for two years before transferring to Oklahoma. He was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and was given Penn State’s Outstanding Freshman award. He was 34-10 with a 14-5 dual meet record at 149 pounds.
“This has always been something I didn’t talk a whole lot about,” he said of the transfer. “I did enjoy my time at Penn State and there were a lot of people there that helped me get to where I am today. I just didn’t feel like that with the staff that was there at the time, not just the wrestling staff but some other people at the university … I was getting the support that I needed.”
At Oklahoma, he made it to the Big 12 finals in his three years and won a title in 2007 — his senior season. He was also a two-time All-American, with his highest finish being fourth as a junior.
Jack Galloway, father of Nathan Galloway, also coached Storniolo on some Pennsylvania national teams. He noted that once Storniolo got on top position, he was hard to get away from.
Same can be said about current Penn State wrestler Zain Retherford, who ironically wrestles at 149 pounds.
“I see some similarities,” Storniolo said. “I’m not going to lie I think Zain might be a little bit better than I was technically. There are some similarities. We both like to ride legs on top actually on the same side with our right leg in. We both like to rip guys’ arms off with power halves. I might not have been the flashiest, but I wrestled hard for seven minutes and that’s obviously something Zain is showing he is good at.”
Retherford could be another highlight match on Sunday. He may face off with Northwestern’s Jason Tsirtsis. However, Tsirtsis may not wrestle after suffering an elbow injury in the Wildcats’ 54-0 loss to Iowa on Jan. 10.
“We’re hoping he is,” Stroniolo said of his wrestler. “I know he is hoping he wrestles tomorrow. We’re not going to know that decision until he gets out there and warms up and we see how he feels before the match.”
Northwestern is on a five-match losing streak going into its match with a top-ranked team.
“We remind them to be positive,” Storniolo said. “Focus on the opportunities that you have and be excited that you have them. We need to embrace this challenge and wrestle seven minutes. The one thing we tell the guys is, ‘You need to wrestle the man, not the singlet.’”
No. 1 Penn State (9-0, 4-0 Big Ten) at Northwestern (1-6, 0-2 Big Ten)
When: 2 p.m., Sunday
Where: Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston, Ill.
Radio: WRSC 1390
125: No. 4 Nico Megaludis (18-1)
Garrison White (9-6)
133: No. 5 Jordan Conaway (17-2)
Dominick Malone (15-)
141: No. 13 Jimmy Gulibon (7-4)
OR Kade Moss (15-6)
Jameson Oster (8-2)
149: No. 1 Zain Retherford (18-0)
No. 4 Jason Tsirtsis (5-3)
157: No. 3 Jason Nolf (19-0)
Anthony Petrone (0-1)
165: No. 16 Shakur Rasheed (12-5)
OR Geno Morelli (16-5)
Luke Norland (3-7)
174: No. 1 Bo Nickal (19-1)
Mitch Sliga (11-5)
184: No. 13 Matt McCutcheon (11-1)
OR Devon Van Cura (7-4)
OR Brian Brill (9-2)
Regis Durbin (4-9)
197: No. 1 Morgan McIntosh (17-0)
Jacob Berkowitz (3-5)
HWT: Jan Johnson (1-5)
OR Wes Phipps (0-1)
Conan Jennings (4-11)