PITTSBURGH — Josh Heil and Nick Kiussis ruled the roost at Brunswick High School, and the wrestlers hope to take the NCAA Division I Championships by storm today in a 330-man field full of hammers.
The only four-time state placers in school history, Heil, who wrestles for Campbell, and Kiussis, who wrestles for West Virginia, know how extraordinary PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh will be.
“I think it’s pretty special just to keep that wrestling going with us,” Kiussis said. “We’ve been wrestling together since the first grade, so this is a pretty special moment.”
For Heil (149 pounds), the trip will be his second after the redshirt sophomore picked up an at-large bid in 2017. Heil comes in as an automatic qualifier after winning the Southern Conference Tournament.
Kiussis (165) is making his first trip after earning an at-large bid.
“It’s cool,” said Heil, who redshirted last season. “I didn’t get to compete last year. That was (my brother) Dean’s last year. I’m back, and I’m ready to go this time. Freshman year was kind of a bad season. I started off weak. I got to nationals, and now I’m ready.”
Heil has put together a 23-6 season that landed him the 11th seed in the 33-man bracket.
Last season, Heil wrestled unattached in the Southern Scuffle finals, meaning he was ineligible to qualify for nationals. Then he watched the competitors he beat wrestle in the NCAA Championships at Quicken Loans Arena.
“I wrestled the Scuffle last year and beat a couple guys on the mat and a couple guys in the blood round and an All-American,” Heil said. “I’m watching some of these guys wrestle and I’m thinking, ‘I should be wrestling. I should be out there. I should be placing. I should be wrestling in the finals.’
“This year, it’s time to go. I know I have what it takes it’s time to prove it.”
Kiussis, who is 18-10 and seeded 29th, isn’t taking his appearance on the big stage for granted. Qualifying has the 2017 D-I state champion and Gazette MVP amped for what’s to come.
“Being in the state finals (four times) helps atmosphere-wise,” he said. “Being able to handle the pressures you’ll face and the things you’ll feel during that time can help out with what happens here.”
If that’s not enough, the bond the former drill partners have can put them over the top.
While Heil has five teammates wrestling alongside him and Kiussis four, their friendship is incredible.
Both still talk to each other and offer advice. They are excited to have their lifelong dreams continue on the mat at the collegiate level.
“I don’t how to explain it, really, the bond we’ve had over the years with his dad (Mike) being my coach, too, and knowing his family. It’s special,” Kiussis said. “I can’t really describe it. Josh has been doing great at the college level, so I take any advice he can give me. Once I got the bid, he congratulated me and told me to make the most of the opportunity. That’s what I’m going to do.”
“This shows how hard me and Nick worked in the room and what kind of guys we are,” Heil added. “When you’re here, it’s all about you, but if I can’t catch his match, I’ll be looking it up online. Whether I see it in person or online, I’ll see it.”
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