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Rows of free weights adorn the Hofstra wrestling team’s renovated strength and conditioning room, waiting to help Hofstra student-athletes build muscle and increase strength for the upcoming season.
P.J. Gillespie is one of the team members taking advantage of the new training facility. But the sophomore is also spending more time on the cardio machines as he prepares for the jump into the 165-pound weight class, after wrestling at 149 pounds last year.
The move comes one year after the Long Beach, New York, native captured a Colonial Athletic Association championship and became an NCAA qualiﬁ er. After winning the CAA Rookie of the Year Award and earning a selection on the All-Freshman team, Gillespie is challenging himself by moving into a weight class that historically has been one of Hofstra’s greatest strengths, led by Mike Patrovich’s two All-American selections in 2006 and 2007. “I’m just getting my strength up because wrestling bigger guys obviously takes a lot more energy,” Gillespie said. “I need more strength in order to execute more moves.”
Gillespie went 21-15 last season after redshirting the year before. Despite the move to 165 pounds this season, the physical education major said his goals remain similar to those he achieved in his ﬁ rst full season.“I want to make it to the national championship and win the CAA again,” Gillespie said. “Just do it over, except this year, I obviously want to get to the All-America stand.”
Gillespie’s senior year at Long Beach High School in 2007 resulted in a New York state championship and a 41-0 record. That immaculate ledger led to eroded conﬁ dence when Gillespie lost some early-season matches to start his Hofstra career. Yet he said those struggles helped him improve to the point where he still racked up ﬁ ve pins and won two matches against nationally ranked opponents in the NCAA Championships before losing in the national quarterﬁ nals. “Last year there was a one-month period where I wasn’t wrestling well and had a bunch of losses that deﬁ nitely put me down in the dumps,” Gillespie said. “But you have to get over it and amp yourself up.” Hurling a top-ranked opponent to the mat is one way to infuse adrenaline. Perhaps Gillespie’s most impressive victory came during the second tie-breaker of the CAA championship match when he outlasted No. 1-seed Mike Roberts, defeating the Boston University standout by a single point.
Gillespie’s win put him into the national tournament, where he won twice despite being neither ranked nor seeded. The Roberts’ take-down from the previous tournament afﬁ rmed Gillespie’s talent and carried momentum into the NCAA Tournament, which featured matches against top-seeded opponents from powerhouse programs. “It gave me a big conﬁ dence boost, just knowing I could hang with some of the best guys in the country,” Gillespie said.
Ryan Patrovich is also making a move up in weight class for the Pride, vacating the class that Gillespie now occupies. The junior will wrestle this season at 174 pounds. Patrovich’s move comes after the Bohemia, New York, native qualiﬁ ed for the NCAA Tournament the previous two seasons as a 165-pounder. In addition to training for stronger opponents, Patrovich is also taking on the role as Gillespie’s mentor, instructing the fellow Long Islander about the strategy and preparation required to succeed in the 165-pound bracket. Patrovich said his move will lift last season’s burden of losing pounds to make weight every week. Gillespie’s move could also alleviate the strain during weigh-in time.
“I think he’ll stay fresher throughout the year, and it’ll be more enjoyable for him,” said Patrovich, who said Gillespie has the skills to bypass the 157-pound class for the 165-pound spot. “It’s not like high school, where you can go up a weight class or two for another match. It takes a toll on your body when you’re cutting a lot of weight.” Patrovich and Gillespie share the distinction of redshirting before becoming key contributors to Hofstra’s eighth consecutive CAA championship team last season. A year of rest also allowed Gillespie to heal a season-ending meniscus injury that occurred during his ﬁ rst collegiate tournament.
“It did a lot for me as far as watching other guys and realizing that college wrestling is a new level from high school,” Gillespie said. “I had to do a lot of rehab, but it helped as far as the observing part.” Gillespie continues to learn from Patrovich, while also getting some encouragement from former champion Pride wrestlers who still maintain a connection with the program. Jon Masa became the Pride’s only three-time All-American, winning in 2003, 2005 and 2006 at the 149-pound weight class. After grappling with Masa during fall practices, Gillespie said the winter matches that count in the standings seem less daunting.
It also helps that the former champions set a high standard that Gillespie hopes to reach with more experience. Gillespie works with Masa twice a week, working out at clinics that Gillespie’s father helps organize. The constant stream of friendly challenges from his fellow Pride wrestlers has Gillespie primed for another successful season that will include matchups against non-conference powers like Ohio State and Nebraska. “Pins almost never happen in college, so every match is literally a battle,” Gillespie said.