“Eat right, sleep right, live right.” These are the instructions assistant coach Glenn Koser gives the West Chester University wrestling team at their practice at Ehinger Gym on Thursday nights.
It seems like a rather simple mantra to live by (although most people might say otherwise), but rather it’s the least they can do for a program that has, for the past four years, done so many things right.
In its four years as a club team in the National Collegiate Wrestling Association (NCWA), the team has finished with two Mid-East Conference championships and two top ten finishes at the National Championships along with 18 national qualifiers, nine All-Americans, and five National Champions, including the team’s captain, senior Dustin Tancredi.
“There’s a little less pressure because I already won [a National Championship],” Tancredi said, “But there’s still a lot of pressure to go and win it again. I’m excited for the end of the season; it’s the last month of my career really, so I’m excited to go get back on top of the podium.”
Other returning All-Americans include junior Ryan Kreppel, who finished seventh in the nation at 235 last season, and sophomore Luke Bilyeu, who finished third at 141 during his freshman campaign. Bilyeu has continued the momentum from his finish last season into a stellar 19-2 record.
“I feel a lot better because last year I came in as a transfer in the second semester, so I only had a half a year to get ready,” said Bilyeu. “I feel a lot more confident because I had a whole year to prepare for the end of the season.”
And the preparation that Bilyeu has done to this point is not lost on the coaching staff.
“I’m really pleased [with his season], Luke’s a hard worker, he’s self motivated…and it shows,” assistant coach and former WCU wrestler Alray Johnson said. “Dustin’s the same way, being a leader and a captain, you have to put the time in.”
Tancredi and Bilyeu are examples of the hard work and success that head coach Joe Miller has had since he restarted the program.
“He got all the alumni back together and we donated a little here and there,” said alumnus Mark Chew, now a coach (and restaurant owner) in Maryland.
As the program continues to grow, coach Miller’s goal of a National Championship within five years looks even more attainable. Especially since the success has caught the eye of wrestlers from outside southeastern Pennsylvania.
“I get e-mails from kids telling me that they want to come to West Chester to wrestle,” coach Miller said.
The program is also bolstered by WCU alumni sending their children here to learn.
“I think they do a phenomenal job,” Mark Chew said. “I coach a high school wrestling team, so I bring some of my boys up so Joe can work with them.”
With all the success and attention the program gets, it begs the question of whether or not the program will ever be accepted as a NCAA sport by the university.
“You always want to compete at the best level you can, at the highest level you can,” coach Johnson said. “We’ve shown here at the club program that we can compete at the Division III or Division II level, and we’ve even run into Division I competition.”
The decision, however, lies in the hands of the university, and with the current budget crisis in Harrisburg, that dream may have to be put on hold for a while. But as long as the team continues its run of success and continues to attract wrestlers, the program will remain strong in the years to come, with or without NCAA designation.
“We’re blessed that [the university] allows us to do what we’re doing now at the club level,” coach Alray Johnson said. “Because they didn’t have to approve it, but they saw that there was enough interest in the program, so here we are and we’re doing well. It’s going to come when it’s supposed to come.”
And until it does the only thing they can do is eat right, sleep right, live right, and above all wrestle right.
Brian Johnson is a fourth-year student majoring in English. He can be reached at BJ669485@wcupa.edu.