LOCK HAVEN - It took 10 tries, but Bloomsburg's Matt Moley finally got that proverbial monkey off his back.
Or, to be specific, got Edinboro's Gregor Gillespie off his back.
The 157-pound Moley, a two-time state runner-up at Spring-Ford and NCAA All-American a year ago, had lost nine straight bouts to the No. 1 ranked Gillespie. Three of those setbacks - by 3-0, 5-1, and 6-0 margins - were earlier this season. But in Saturday's final of the Eastern Wrestling League Championships at Lock Haven University, Moley (31-5) went on the attack early and it led to an 8-5 decision of the previously unbeaten Gillespie (37-1).
The win not only ended the humbling skid, but denied Gillespie a fourth straight EWL title and earned Moley the Outstanding Wrestler award as well as his third straight trip to the NCAA Championships.
"I just wrestled him a little differently," Moley explained Sunday night. "I didn't go out and worry about what he was going to do. This time I just attacked him."
It worked ... at last.
Moley got the first of his three takedowns just 10 seconds into the final. Gillespie escaped, but Moley got another takedown and held Gillespie down the remainder of the first period for a 4-1 advantage. Gillespie took bottom to begin the second period and escaped moments later, but another Moley takedown made it 6-2.
Gillespie, who was fifth at the NCAA Championships a year ago, closed to within 6-3 going into the third period, then made it 6-5 with a takedown of his own. However, Moley clinched it by escaping before the final buzzer. He picked up the final point for riding time.
"I kind of shocked (Gillespie) when I got that first takedown right away," Moley said. "I think that threw him off his game a little. And when I got the other takedown it may have gotten in his head.
"(Gillespie) likes to back up and take his shots. He's not the attacking type, and he counters real well. But this time I stayed kind of low, looked for shots, and went after him."
The No. 9 ranked Moley opened the EWL feature with a 2:17 pin of Lock Haven's Ollie Cooperwood. He then moved into the final with a 3-1 decision of Clarion's Hadley Harrison.
Moley, whose only other losses this season have been to No. 6 Adam Hall of Boise State and No. 13 Kurt Kinser of Indiana, wasn't exactly 100 percent going into Saturday's championships.
"I had strep throat and practiced just twice all week," he explained. "I didn't really start feeling better until (Friday).
"I'm a little sore now, so it'll be good to have a little break (before nationals Mar. 19-21). We'll have a few easy practices, then get back into it pretty seriously."
At last year's NCAA Championships, Moley dropped his opener before stringing together four straight wins and finishing eighth. Two of his three losses were to Iowa State's Cyler Sanderson - who was ranked one spot in front of Moley at No. 8 in the final Division I coaches rankings released earlier last week.
The area's only other District 1 graduate in the EWL showdown was host Lock Haven's Nick Hyatt (Boyertown), who split his four bouts and finished fourth at 125 pounds. Hyatt, a red-shirt sophomore, lost only to eventual champion Paul Donahue of Edinboro and bronze medalist Ian Moser of Bloomsburg and closed his season with a 15-14 mark.
Moley, as well as all qualifying tournament champions and a pre-released number of wrestlers in each weight class earned spots in the NCAA Championships. The NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee will meet Wednesday to select the remaining 52 at-large qualifiers, which will be announced on March 11. All weight classes will consist of 33 entries.
The at-large selections will be made based on the following criteria - head-to-head competition; qualifying event placement; quality wins; results against common opponents; winning percentage; RPI; coaches ranking and the number of matches contested at that weight class.
North Carolina's Mike Rappo (Council Rock South) qualified for the NCAA Championships by finishing second at 133 pounds in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championships at Virginia Tech. Rappo reached the finals with 16-9 decision and 13-3 major, but fell 11-7 to Maryland's top-seeded Steven Bell. ... Virginia's Chris Henrich (Germantown Academy, Lansdale resident) also qualified by cruising to the title at 174, using a forfeit and 17-5 major decision to get to the final, where he added another 10-1 major for the gold medal. ... And at 285, Maryland's Pat Gilmore (Council Rock South) split his four bouts, getting dropped into the consolations by top-seeded Konrad Dudziak of Duke, 4-3, and falling to No. 3 seed David Marone of Virginia Tech in the third-place final. Only the top three at 285 earned a spot in nationals.
BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIPS
Oklahoma's Pat Flynn (Quakertown) recovered from a 2-1 overtime loss in the quarterfinals to place third at 184 during the Big 12 Conference Championships at Nebraska. Flynn (25-6) rallied with two first-period pins to grab the silver medal and qualify for the NCAA Championships.
Rider's Fred Rodgers (Boyertown) came up short in his bid for the national championships, dropping two of his three bouts at 141 pounds during the Colonial Athletic Conference Championships at Chesapeake, Va. Rogers closed out the season 20-20.
Liberty's Tim Harner (Norristown) and Millersville's Shane Smith (Upper Perkiomen) were golden, while Millersville's Sean Reed (Springfield-Delco) and Liberty's Brad Clark (Methacton) settled for runner-up honors during the East Regional in Boiling Springs, N.C.
Harner (25-8) followed an opening-round bye with two pins for the title at 141, while Smith (32-13) used a pin and decision to get to the final at 174, where he upset top-seeded Brandon Gardner of Delaware State, 4-3 in overtime. Both Harner and Smith qualified for the NCAA Championships.
Reed (18-16) was pinned in the final at 133, while Clark (15-16) was edged 1-0 in the final at 165 by Millersville's Jeremy Brooks. Both will hope to earn at-large berths to be decided Wednesday.
Penn's Rick Rappo (Council Rock South) bounced back from a semifinal loss to take third place during the EIWA Championships at the Penn Palestra. The 141-pound Rappo (18-7), who dropped a 3-1 semifinal with eventual champion Seth Ciasulli of Lehigh, recovered with two straight wins to take the bronze medal and earn a spot in the NCAA Championships.
East Stroudsburg's David Luthy (Plymouth-Whitemarsh) went 0-2 at 125; Columbia's Andrew Grabfelder (Germantown Academy, Collegeville resident) went 0-2 at 133; Army's Brian Rowan (Neshaminy) went 1-2 at 165; and Franklin & Marshall's Colin Ely (Unionville) went 1-2 at 197 pounds.
The NCAA Division I Championships will be held Thursday through Saturday, Mar. 19-21 in St. Louis. ... The Division II Championships are set for this Friday and Saturday in Houston, Tex. ... The National Collegiate Wrestling Association's National Championships are set for Thursday through Saturday in Virginia Beach. Among the qualifiers are West Chester University's Dillon Evans (Council Rock South) at 149; Williamson Trade teammates Paul Capriolo (Conestoga) at 125 and Eric Powell (Plymouth-Whitemarsh) at 157; Penn State's Jason Turpyn (Neshaminy) at 125; West Chester's Brandon Banks (Wissahickon) at 197; and RPI's Ryan Michaels (Pottsgrove) at 157.