Inside the Rob and Alice Thomas Student Activity Center, Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer” blared as the pre-match clock ticked down. Those wearing customized “Sea of Orange” shirts, from students to administrators, halted their mingling and made their way to the royal blue bleachers.
SJCA wrestling’s first-ever home dual meet was set to begin, and the Wolves — smiling as they jogged around the black mat, giving out giddy waves to family and friends — were ready.
SJCA ousted Tyrone 46-24 in front of 300-plus spectators, winning nine of 13 bouts. The night was highlighted by a pair of technical falls and three pins — and more than a few welcomed, unfamiliar faces in the stands.
“We’re not around here too often. We’re always away,” SJCA coach Pat Flynn said after shaking hands and fielding congratulations. “To perform in front of the students, it was great. ... I’m happy for the guys.”
Added junior Jacob Powers: “We got to show everyone what we’re made of.”
Powers, who claimed the program’s first-ever District 6 crown last season, started the night off. The cagey kid wrestling up a weight class at 138 dominated Tyrone freshman Alex Weaver, producing a 15-0 tech fall in 4 minutes, 38 seconds.
Flynn wanted Powers — last season’s Southwest Regional champ — to be the first-ever SJCA wrestler to take the mat in front of a home crowd. Flynn called Powers “my leader” and a “special kid,” deserving to make a little history.
While admitting he felt the pressure, Powers set the tone.
At 145 pounds, SJCA sophomore Caleb Dowling pinned Brandon Ixtepan in 2:19, Julian Simmons won by forfeit at 152, and Keegan Rothrock powered through a 9-7 decision at 160 in which he nabbed the decisive points with a few seconds remaining. As Rothrock’s matchup with Tyrone senior Derrick Harris went down to the wire, some stands stood up to take videos on their phone. Others kept both hands free to clap when Rothrock was awarded the victory.
It was in that moment — with the Wolves owning an early 20-0 advantage — that SJCA athletic director Chad Walsh nodded his head. It was the atmosphere everyone at SJCA hoped for at an event that was hyped for a long time.
“It started to snowball,” Walsh, sitting next to the raucous student section, said of the school’s interest. “Today kids were coming up to me asking, ‘Mr. Walsh, are there still tickets left?’ There was a panic because all their friends were coming.”
Dowling even noticed the buzz around campus.
“You just walked down the halls and hear a kid say to another, ‘Hey, you going to the match?’” the sophomore said. “Kids you wouldn’t expect and never even talked to; it’s just cool seeing them out here supporting us.”
And the Wolves didn’t disappoint.
Despite 24 straight Tyrone points thanks to three forfeits and an SJCA disqualification, Flynn’s guys bounced back. Freshman Amonn Ohl pinned his man at 106 pounds, Ethan Kauffman earned a decision at 113, Lane Aikey picked up a forfeit at 120, Zack Witmer finished off a tech fall by putting Tyrone’s Isaac Parks on his back, and Malachi DuVall closed the night out with a pin in 2:32.
It was an emphatic win on a notable night.
The Wolves are accustomed to playing on the road in front of family and maybe a friend or two, if they’re lucky. On Wednesday evening, there was a community behind them.
The SJCA wrestlers soaked it all in, taking photos with friends who stuck around to see them. Flynn, meanwhile, was left wide-eyed and smiling.
“Hopefully it sends a message to the school that, ‘Hey, we have a wrestling team, and we have some pretty darn good kids.’ There’s all this excitement,” the coach said. “The guys had smiles on their faces. And hopefully at the Sheetz Classic this weekend, some new fans can join the ‘Sea of Orange.’”
Added Witmer: “It was awesome having all this support, just the way that the town and school came together. You don’t get that support at many other places.”