Decade in review: Boro wrestling on a steady up(Hill) climb

Category:  Sports
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019 at 9:20 AM
Decade in review: Boro wrestling on a steady up(Hill) climb by Erica Burkholder

94 PSAC Champions. 

61 EWL Champions. 

38 All-Americans.

3 National Champions.

The most team wins in Edinboro wrestling history.

Replacing former wrestling head coach Tim Flynn was never going to be a simple task. After all, before leaving Edinboro for West Virginia University in April 2017, he had a long list of accomplishments, including a third-place team finish at the 2015 Division I Wrestling National Championships. To put that into perspective, wrestling powerhouses Ohio State University and The University of Iowa were first and second.

Since his departure, Fighting Scots wrestling, the university’s only Division I program, has found themselves in a fight for prominence, going 2-9 in the 2018-19 season, while following that up with an improved 5-2 mark in the current 2019-20 campaign.

Former Edinboro wrestler Matt Hill took on the mantle of program head after Flynn left, becoming the fourth coach since the team moved to Division I, and the 12th head coach in overall program history. While an athlete, Hill wrestled his way to a 105-42 record, while going 17-1 as a senior. We talked to Hill, Flynn and others about how the program plans to rebound. 

“We were fortunate. We had a great group of people, a good team around the kids,” said Flynn, when asked about his time at ‘Boro. “I had some great assistant coaches. I think we just had a great group of people around us. For a small school to have talented staff and good support from the administration — [and] we had good support from the community — I think it really helped us achieve some dreams there.”

Flynn doesn’t take much credit for the awards and championships the team won while he was coaching, though. “What helped us was we were able to get kids that really, really wanted to achieve. You had people highly motivated and willing to do what they’re told, when they’re told. I think you can achieve great things when you have kids that are that dedicated and focused.”

Flynn also had praise for the new coach. 

“I think Matt was one of those guys that I was talking about, a kid that just worked extremely hard and maybe wasn’t the biggest name coming out of high school, but I think when you work at something every day for five years, you’ve really made yourself into a stud. He kind of epitomized what we were all about.”

We spoke to Hill about following up Flynn. “It’s some big shoes to fill. The numbers and stats speak for themselves. Especially [when] going to a school like Edinboro with limited resources, you kind of have to use the blueprints you have and the resources you have, most of it, and just remember that good old fashioned hard work is a really key factor to what we do.”

Hill mentioned that in post graduation, he was always checking on Edinboro’s progress. “I knew the equation and how they did it, but I was still impressed.” Hill was previously coaching at Kent State: he was a graduate assistant from 2007-09 and an assistant coach starting in 2010.

Hill’s legacy as a wrestler has stood the test of time, as he is featured on two of the wrestling team’s posters, one that hangs outside his current office, and one that makes an appearance at the Hotel Bar in town. 

In the coaching transition, the Scots suffered the loss (transfers, graduation or those that did not return to the team for other reasons) of 16 wrestlers. 

“They kind of thought the same thing that everyone else did. They were like: I came for Tim Flynn, they wanted to be here under Flynn’s program, and we had no clue what the next coach was going to be,” said redshirt junior Koltyn Eason.

“It was like taking a chance not knowing what coach was coming up next.”

He had praise for the new hire, a mystery no longer.

“Matt Hill definitely seems like he cares more; it’s not just wrestling. It’s like he’s a family man. He makes sure he’s excited and it’s like he mixes it (practice/his coaching style) up every day.”

Although in limbo for that time, and despite the transition being a “little slow, because the college had to pick a new coach and then Coach Hill had to build a coaching staff,” current wrestler Tyler Vath thought it went “well.” When referring to the month in between coaches, which took place in the offseason, he said in a text: “A lot of guys needed a break from wrestling and took a week off, [but] after about a week, not to my surprise a lot of guys still came in and worked out.”

Eason also talked about that transitional period. “[It was] due to our volunteer assistant, which was Andrew Church, he was a heck of a guy and he always kept us motivated. He stepped up to the plate when we had that transition. No one missed any workouts. We still worked out 10 times a week. We kept on a strict regimen, and because of that I think that’s why we have the success we have this year.” 

“Through the transition, Tim took his whole staff and there was really no one here except Church,” said Hill. He later elaborated, “he helped keep this team together in the sense of making sure they had workouts, and they had some kind of comradery, and just a structure to follow. That was real important. He did a great job.”

“We were such a young team, we had a lot of guys that were redshirting or injured, [and] we didn’t really have a big recruiting class,” added Eason on the results of last season.

Despite the record, ‘Boro wrestlers still logged impressive individual performances. Carmine Ciotti and Jacob Oliver finished second in their weight classes to give ‘Boro a 4th place finish at the EWL tournament. Oliver and Zach Ancewicz took home PSAC titles and Oliver went to nationals. Oliver was named PSAC Freshman of the Year and EWL Freshman of the Year. 

“[That first year] it was more of a ‘hold on, let’s go for a bumpy ride,’ and we’re gonna keep our head up, stay positive and develop these guys,” said Hill. 

This year, the Scots moved into the Mid-American Conference, along with other EWL teams, as MAC affiliate members. The team also hired Assistant Coach Sean Boyle in September. Boyle wrestled for the University of Michigan and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Boyle said in an earlier interview with The Spectator, “I think having good recruits here, we can build this up and turn it into a national powerhouse.” Assistant Coach Ernest James, another ‘Boro alumnus, was announced in the summer. James’ record was 100-49, with an EWL and PSAC championship under his belt. 

During Hill’s first year, he was assisted by Pat Bradshaw, an alumnus who wrestled for ‘Boro from 2005-2010 with a record of 97-44. Bradshaw had assisted Flynn in 2011-2012 and at Saegertown High School after that. Hill was also assisted by Mike DePalma, who wrestled at ‘Boro before transferring to Kent State (where Hill coached previously).

“The practices still have that core ‘Boro-built mentality,” said Vath, on what it’s like to wrestle under both coaches.

“Under Hill’s coaching, I think guys wrestle harder, are closer as a team,” said Vath. “You cannot take away how Flynn was a great coach (one of the best), but me personally, I love wrestling for the new coaching staff.” 

“I think we have a really good core base of wrestlers, and I’m looking to get our team back into top 20 rankings and get a few All-Americans every year,” said Hill on the future.

“I think we’ll stay on a steady uphill climb, just like we always are. Edinboro’s known for their hard-working, blue-collar wrestlers,” said Eason.

Hill, who feels honored to coach after Flynn, said, “I hope to continue the legacy that Tim had.”

Flynn said, “I think they have a good person at the helm of the ship in Matt.”

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