Three New Kensington wrestlers earn invites to national championships

Penn State New Kensington freshman wrestler Dean Rusk won the National Collegiate Wrestling Association Mid-East Conference March 1 to move on to the national tournament. In addition to Rusk, freshmen Phillip Marra finished in fourth place, and Colin Austin finished fifth to lock up berths to the NCWA national championships, March 13-15 at the Allen Events Center in Allen, Texas.

Three student-athletes are the most New Kensington has sent to the NCWA nationals since wrestling returned to the campus as an intercollegiate sport in 2010. Rusk (Ringgold High School) is ranked fifth nationally in the 285-pound weight class. Marra (Burrell H.S.) is ranked ninth at 149 pounds, and Austin (Penn-Trafford) is 21st at 165.

Nearly 100 wrestlers and 14 teams competed in the mid-east regional qualifier at Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, Pa. The top six individuals in each weight class received invitations to the nationals. The New Kensington Lions, under the direction of first-year head coach Joe Makara, finished in ninth place in the team competition.

Rusk, the cornerstone of the campus' fourth-year wrestling program, owned a team-best 15-4 record with 11 pins during the regular season. The Monongahela, Pa. native’s accomplishments included winning the Penn State New Kensington Open and finishing fifth in the Waynesburg University Invitational, a major tournament by NCWA standards. The 285-pound class will feature 72 wrestlers from across the country. A year ago, New Kensington’s John Dopplehauer finished 24th at 285 in the NCWA tournament.

“Dean has a really good chance to become an All American this season,” Makara said.

Marra arrives in Texas with a 14-5 mark, including seven pins. The Lower Burrell resident captured the title of the New Kensington Open and took sixth place at the prestigious Jamestown Community College Open. He will be vying with 187 other wrestlers in the 149-pound group. A graduate of the storied Burrell wrestling program, Marra went 98-42 in high school and earned fourth place at the state championships in 2013. Mark Irwin last represented the campus in the 149 pound class at the 2011 nationals.

“Phil has had a really good year at a tough weight,” Makara said. “I look for him to finish strong and contend for a top eight spot at the nationals.”

Austin, who was raised in Jeannette, Pa., went 11-10 on the year, with a majority of the wins coming by pins, 7. Austin has one top finish, first place in the New Kensington Open. The 165 weight class has 157 competitors. The campus was represented in the 165-pound class last year by James Melnyk, who finished 24th.

“Colin wrestled his best of the season at the conference tournament,” Makara said. “I look for him to build off of this heading into nationals.

Makara, a former assistant wrestling coach at Burrell, has continued the resuscitation a campus program that was dormant from 1975 to 2010. Wrestling was a staple of the campus athletic program in the early 1970s. A two-time state champion from Burrell, Makara will be inducted into the Southwestern Pennsylvania Wrestling Hall of Fame March 16, a day after the nationals. He will be recognized at the Dapper Dan Classic at the Fitzgerald Field House on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh.

Since the reincarnation of the wrestling program, seven campus grapplers have made the trip to the NCWA nationals. Lou Gardone was the first, earning a fourth seed in the 197-pound division. Like Rusk, Gardone won his weight class at the Mid-East conference tourney. At the nationals, he and Irwin missed the official weigh-in and had to forfeit their matches due to a coaching error.

NCWA is the governing body for collegiate club wrestling teams in the United States and Canada. It is divided into seven regional conferences: Mid-East; Northeast; Mid-Atlantic; Southeast; North Central; Southwest; and West coast. The New Kensington Lions compete in the 18-member Mid-East region that includes programs from the University of Pittsburgh, Rutgers University, University of Delaware and Lehigh University.

The campus ties to the NCWA are strong. Former Penn State New Kensington student Jim Giunta, a wrestler for the original campus program in the early '70s, is the founder and executive director of the organization.

Giunta, a 1971 graduate of Burrell High School, was a biology major at the campus. He switched to education after transferring to Texas A&M University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in education and a master’s degree in exercise physiology and cardiac rehabilitation. After graduation, he began teaching high school in Richardson, a North Dallas suburb, and served as the head wrestling coach there for seven years.

A resident of Dallas, he launched the Texas Interscholastic Wrestling Association in 1987 to promote wrestling in high schools. He formed the NCWA in 1997. Giunta was honored in 2004 with a lifetime achievement award by the Texas Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
For schedule and results of the NCWA tournament, visit

Penn State New Kensington
Post-Season Wrestling

NCWA National Championships Participants
Participant, National Ranking (weight class), Result
2014: Dean Lusk, 5th (285), TBA; Phillip Marra, 9th (149), TBA;
Colin Austin, 21st (165),TBA
2013: John Dopplehauer, 18th (285), 24th;
James Melnyk, 63rd, (149), 24th
2011- Lou Gardone (197), 4th, forfeit; Mark Irwin (149), forfeit

Conference Champions
Name (weight class) Conference Champions
2014: Dean Lusk (285), Mid-East Conference
2012-Matt Kepple (184), Penn State University Athletic Conference
2011- Lou Gardone (197), Mid-East Conference

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Last Updated March 11, 2014