COLUMN: Jackets will hoist another PAC trophy Saturday evening.

In October, the Presidents’ Athletic Conference released a preseason poll which had Waynesburg University projected to finish dead last. Fast forward to February, and the Jackets have slayed  both Thiel and Washington & Jefferson, while dealing with a lot of adversities en route to a 2-0 PAC dual meet record.

The Yellow Jackets had to deal with the losses of Tony Welsh, Ken Burrs and Jake Evans at the beginning of the season. Waynesburg had to rely on the emergence of Caleb Baxter, who was coming off of an ACL injury, the talented, but inconsistent Zach Mackall, along with returning PAC champs Dylan Williams, Josh Kuslock and Matt Lascola.

Baxter and Kuslock’s seasons ended early due to injuries. Williams has dealt with injuries and weight issues, which have limited his mat time. The 29-year-old Lascola wasn’t as solid as he was a year before, and Mackall finally turned the corner and became consistently dominant this season.

Granted, at the beginning of the season, I had Washington & Jefferson finishing first in the conference because of the “murderers row” of Mike Heinl, Hunter Neely and Jared Walker. 

But the Presidents’ trio hasn’t been as dominant as last season.  Neely bumped up two weight classes and Walker has dealt with injuries as of late, which has handicapped W&J’s middleweights, who’re lacking in depth. Aside from them, there isn’t too much to be excited about in W&J’s lineup.

Manny Dovshek is beatable if forced to wrestle three periods. As spectators have seen, Waynesburg’s Williams and Harley Constable tire him out while pushing the pace. George Mason transfer, Alex Donahue was supposed to answer a prayer for the Presidents at 197, but has yet to deliver. 

Thiel’s team isn’t in the conversation for a championship yet, and that’s fine. The Tomcats improved from last season [5-4 to 6-3]. Their lineup has some bright spots on the team in Jason Baker [141], Austin Bonacci [157], Peyton Hearn [165] and Gage Gladysz [197/285].

Kuslock summed it up best after the Thiel vs Waynesburg match.

“Their gas tanks aren’t as good as ours,” he said.

That’s something that Thiel can’t change in a week.

Why do I think Waynesburg has a great chance to complete the four peat? Simple. Its youth, depth, and Thiel beating W&J in certain weight classes.

The freshmen Jacket wrestlers are improving faster than anyone expected they would be entering this season. Constable [133], Rocky McGeary [285], and Colby Morris [157] are key reasons  why the team didn’t lose a step from last season to this one. McGeary has proved to be more than capable of stepping into the shoes of D-III National Champion Jake Evans, while Morris and Constable did not lose in PAC matches.

Depth can’t be ignored when it comes to Waynesburg’s lineup. Constable filled in like a round peg in a round hole when Williams was out. Dillion Charlton took one for the team and dropped to 174 to replace Baxter and Welsh without an issue. Dan Verhovsek has been solid defensively in not giving up bonus points to multiple Division I transfers.

Thiel was the main reason why Waynesburg won last year, and will be again this year. The Tomcats’ need to win matches against the Presidents in placing matches to limit W&J’s team points. 125, 141, and 184 will be toss up weights depending weight cuts and injuries for lineups.