Butler produces talent for college wrestling programs


Click To Enlarge


There are currently seven Butler High School graduates wrestling in college, including four at the Division I level. Front row, from left: Butler head coach Scott Stoner, Josh Pascazi (Pitt), Mike Crawford (Kent State) and Jon Sanko (Waynesburg). Second row, from left: Alex Evanoff (Waynesburg), Chris White (Lock Haven), Eric Tuck (Waynesburg) and Cole Baxter (Kent State).




BUTLER TWP — With the curtailing of NCAA programs throughout the country, college wrestling opportunities aren't exactly plentiful.
But they exist. Just ask Butler.
The Golden Tornado wrestling program has seven alumni currently competing on college teams. Four of those — Cole Baxter and Mike Crawford at Kent State, Josh Pascazi at Pitt and Chris White at Lock Haven — are with Division I programs.
The other three — Alex Evanoff, Jon Sanko and Eric Tuck — are with Division III Waynesburg.
“Just seeing their success and desire to continue on pumps me up,” Butler coach Scott Stoner said. “Every time one of their parents calls to tell me about how they're doing, I feel the adrenaline rush. ... It's like I'm coaching my own team.”
During the 1970s, there were more than 800 college wrestling programs in the United States, ranging from NAIA through NCAA schools. Today, there are fewer than 400 overall and less than 100 NCAA mat programs.
“The percentage of opportunities for these kids isn't as high now, which makes what they're doing that much more impressive,” Stoner said.
College freshmen can red-shirt and still compete in invitationals. Baxter is doing that and is 22-3 at 184 pounds for Kent State.
Crawford has competed in three invites and is winless thus far.
“You just have to keep working at it,” Baxter said. “Now we're in the room against older and stronger guys.
“I go up against our 184-pound starter, Casey Newburg, in practice every day. He's definitely making me better.”
Crawford was plagued by shoulder injuries his final two high school seasons, but says he's been OK physically so far this year.
“I've always wanted to wrestle in college and I wanted to challenge myself,” Crawford said. “Wrestling is a part of me. There's no way I was going to let it go.”
College seniors Evanoff and Pascazi have that same motivation.
Pascazi signed with Duquesne out of high school and started two years for the Dukes, posting records of 12-12 and 27-17. But Duquesne dropped the sport after his sophomore year.
“I was determined to land somewhere else,” Pascazi said. “It was discouraging when Duquesne dropped it, but Pittsburgh is a strong wrestling community.
“(Pitt assistant) Coach Matt Kocher did a lot of work to get a spot for me at Pitt. I'm not a starter, but I'm doing OK.”
Pascazi is 5-5 this year at 149 pounds and recently placed eighth in a 64-wrestler bracket at the Penn State Open.
Evanoff has been a four-year starter at Waynesburg, but is sidelined with a knee injury that will require surgery. Stoner said he is out for the season.
Evanoff is thinking otherwise.
“I've got a torn meniscus and sprained MCL, plus I tore an ACL last year that I never had surgery for,” Evanoff said. “I'm having surgery on the meniscus in a couple of weeks, then I can come back in three weeks. ... That gives me two weeks to get ready for the regional.
“I was never hurt in high school. In college, I've broken my hand, had a sprained ankle, the knee stuff, but I'm not ready to be done yet. I feel like there's more wrestling left in me.”
Sanko (6-6 this year) is a fellow senior at Waynesburg who's been caught in a numbers game. He's one of eight 165-pounders on the roster.
“All of us could start for other teams,” Sanko said. “But our coach is good about getting us all mat time.
“Once you get started in this sport, it's hard to stop. By the end of each season, you feel miserable from cutting weight, you're all banged up. Then you can't wait for the next season to roll around.”
Tuck is a freshman 157-pounder at Waynesburg who is 3-6 thus far.
“The difference in the caliber of competition in the room is unbelievable. It can't be described,” he said of college wrestling. “Everybody in there is good enough to be at that level. It's fierce every day in practice.”
Lock Haven is coached by Rob Waller, a former NCAA national champion at Oklahoma. The Bald Eagles practice twice a day on occasion.
“We're in there at 6:30 a.m., then come back at 4 p.m.,” sophomore 197-pounder White (3-6) said. “The biggest difference in college is the intensity of the workouts. You have to love the sport to keep doing this.”
These wrestlers have used the sport as well.
They are majoring in such fields as environmental science, business administration, communications, physical therapy and biblical studies.
“I know where I've gained the most in life from — it's wrestling,” Sanko said. “Some of the (Butler) guys here ... we've been wrestling together for more than a decade growing up.
“These are the guys who have pushed me, made me believe in myself over the years. That stuff carries over into everyday life and I'm grateful for it.”

Here are the seven Buter High School graduates currently wrestling in college:
Name Class Wt. School
Alex Evanoff Sr. 174 Waynesburg
Josh Pascazi Sr. 149 Pitt
Jon Sanko Sr. 165 Waynesburg
Chris White Soph. 197 Lock Haven
Cole Baxter Fr. 184 Kent State
Mike Crawford Fr. 157 Kent State
Eric Tuck Fr. 157 Waynesburg