Tyler Warner celebrates after winning the NCAA Division II title at 133 pounds (Photo/Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com)
Two 2019 NCAA Division II champion wrestlers have transferred from Wheeling Jesuit University to University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown, the Pennsylvania-based school announced Friday.
Tyler Warner and Connor Craig, both juniors, have left the Cardinals to wrestle for the UPJ Mountain Lions. Both will be eligible to wrestle at Pitt-Johnstown this fall.
Warner won the 133-pound title at the 2019 NCAA D2 Championships in Cleveland. The redshirt junior posted a 25-1 overall record this past season, and tallied a 53-10 record in two years as a starter at Wheeling Jesuit. A native of Dennison, Ohio, Warner attended Claymont High School south of Canton, where he was a three-time Ohio state champ.
Connor Craig gets his hand raised after winning the NCAA Division II title at 174 pounds (Photo/Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com)
Connor Craig claimed the 174-pound crown at the D2 championships earlier this year. Craig, also a junior, just completed a 28-1 record in 2018-19, and went 54-9 in his two-year career at WJU. Prior to enrolling at the West Virginia school, Craig graduated from Elder High School in Cincinnati, where he placed fourth at the Ohio state wrestling championships, and was an honor roll student.
Warner and Craig join a Pitt-Johnstown lineup that already features Chris Eddins, a two-time national champion, at 149 pounds.
"I don't think we've ever had three national champs returning," long-time UPJ head wrestling coach Pat Pecora told Eric Knopsnyder of the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat. "That's a good way to start the season off! I just want to sit back and take it all in. It's like it's too good to be true -- you don't want to think about it."
Why did two national champs leave a top-rated program?
After all, Wheeling Jesuit had earned second place in the team standings at the 2019 NCAA D2 championships ... while Pitt-Johnstown placed fifth. However, the Wheeling-based university revealed it had hit upon financial difficulties, with the wrestling program a likely casualty. (In reporting on Tyler Warner's transfer this week, the New Philadelphia Times Reporter described the status of the WJU wrestling program as being "in limbo" for the 2019-20 season.)
With the cloud of uncertainty over the future of the Wheeling Jesuit mat program, in April its head coach, Danny Irwin -- named D2 Coach of the Year for 2019 -- announced he had accepted the same position at West Liberty University (also located in Wheeling). Before making that move, Irwin had entered his WJU wrestlers into the transfer portal, freeing them up to wrestle for other schools next season, according to the Tribune-Democrat.