Taking center stage: Former PAHS grappler prepared for D-I finals

CLARION โ€” Shortly after the good news for former Punxsy graduate Kody Young came โ€” that he'd be wrestling at the NCAA Division II Wrestling National Championships โ€” another Punxsy grad earned another spectacular accolade: Former Chuck Steven Cressley, who wrestles for Division I Clarion University, qualified at 184 pounds for the D-I Wrestling National Championships.

Cressley said many don't realize the Golden Eagles wrestle at the Division I level, because the rest of their athletic programs participate at the D-II level. But the National Championships, which will take place Thursday through Saturday in St. Louis, Mo., really are the center stage for collegiate wrestlers.

Cressley qualified for the national tournament by finishing third at the Eastern Wrestling League tournament.

"It's the biggest stage in college, because we are a Division I school," Cressley said. "A lot of guys don't realize we're D-I because the rest of our sports are D-II, but we're on the same level as Penn State and all the other schools, so that makes it a pretty cool achievement."

Penn State, which is a school many recognize for its football program, also has a top-tiered wrestling program, one that has the title of defending national champions attached to it.

Cressley said that he gives credit to his coaching staff at Clarion, which has strong ties to the Nittany Lions' program.

"This year, we had a coaching change," he said. "Our head coach, Matt Dernlan, was the old Penn State assistant coach, and last year, he was the director of wrestling operations there. Our new assistant coach (Troy Letters) was also an assistant at Penn State, and they were national champions last year. So, that's really helped, too."

Cressley also spoke of his Punxsutawney roots, though, saying his wrestling foundation started at a young age in his home town.

"My history in Punxsy shaped everything underneath me," he said. "That's where my whole background came from, from the coaches to my family. My family had a lot to do with it. My mom and dad supported me, and my dad took me everywhere I needed to go."

Cressley, a red-shirt junior majoring in finance at the university, is described in his bio on the Golden Eagles Wrestling Web site as a "tough wrestler" who is "highly motivated and dedicated" with a "mature mat sense."

During his high school career at PAHS under Punxsy head coach Eric Eddy, Cressley amassed a 96-30 record, was a four-letter winner and was a PIAA qualifier as a senior.

Academically, Cressley has also shown success as a member of the National Honor Society at the high school level and a Clarion and Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Scholar at the collegiate level.

The level Cressley covets most at this stage, though, is the distinction as an All-American Division I wrestler.

With only 33 participants advancing to the national tournament in each weight class, he's already among the nation's elite, but he said to succeed at this level, one must know he is worthy of being there and expect big things of himself.

"You want to be an All-American," he said. "Everybody wants to do that. You can't go in not wanting that, or else you won't see any success. At this level, everyone is good, and you have to know you're good going into it."

If he doesn't reach his ultimate goal this season, Cressley would still have one more chance as a senior for the Golden Eagles next season, but as prime as the competition is, he also knows this learning experience could be a once in a lifetime sort of deal.

"You want to use it as a learning experience and build on it to try to get to the top," he said. "But ultimately, the goal is to be an All-American."

According to the Clarion Web site, Cressley, whose record this season is 17-14, is unseeded at 184 pounds in his first trip to the national tournament. He will open the tournament against No. 5 seed Kevin Steinhaus, of Minnesota, who has a record of 27-4.

For more information on the tournament, and to follow Cressley's progress, visit www.ncaa.com/championships/wrestling/d1.