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P.J. Gillespie turns heads on the wrestling mat

By Joe Pantorno, Staff Writer

Let's be honest, around campus wrestling is not Hofstra University's most recognized sport, but the Pride are rolling out a solid squad of wrestlers that are competing to be the best in the nation, which is something sports fans here at Hofstra should start getting excited about. Hofstra's main spark of excitement comes from the nationally recognized 165 pound star, P.J. Gillespie.

The sophomore's wrestling career began in second grade after years of attending practice at Long Beach High School where his father coached for 18 years. P.J. dropped wrestling for a year in third grade, but was back for good in fourth as he began laying the foundation for a great career.

Gillespie's career flourished at Long Beach High School as he became one of the most successful wrestlers in Long Island history. In his senior year, P.J. went 41-0 on his way to a New York State Championship, and earnd a place as a Junior National All-American in Greco-Roman. His success at LBHS grabbed the attention of big name wrestling schools like Binghamton, Cornell, and American who tried to recruit him, but Hofstra pinned Gillespie from the start. "It was close to home and I could always go for a home cooked meal and it's great to wrestle in front of the home crowd here on Long Island".

As a 149-pound freshman, Gillespie was redshirted in his first year here in 2007, but the time on the sidelines was beneficial to him. "Observation really helped me out. It was great to watch the older guys wrestle. It helped me realize how much different college wrestling is from wrestling in High School."

Gillespie burst onto the scene in the 2008-2009 season grabbing national attention and accolades as he won the CAA title and qualified for the NCAA National Tournament. Finishing the season with a 21-15 mark, P.J. was also named the CAA Rookie of the Year and became a member of the CAA All-Freshman Team. In order to win the conference title, Hofstra's Hercules took down the third, second, and first seed, which "as a six seed, was probably my biggest thrill last year." His championship match against the nation's number one seed, Boston University's Mike Roberts, went to two tie breakers where he won the match and the title 3-2.

Coming back as a 165 pounder (from 149 lbs, this is a very difficult transition for any wrestler) and ranked 23rd in the nation by Division I College Wrestling, Gillespie looked to make his mark on the conference once again. Unfortunately, injury has hurt the Hofstra team from day one. "In order to stay healthy here you have to get a lot of rest. I go to the training room constantly to make sure everything is ok." With an injury ravaged team, new faces have been making debuts throughout the season. It is important that P.J. sets the right example for his teammates and his coach, Tom Shiflett, knows that the super sophomore is his go to guy. "P.J. is my go to guy. He is the guy I look to when we need points during a match."

With all these expectations, Gillespie has his head in the right place. "I try not to look at the rankings, it's just a number. It means nothing because anyone can beat you no matter what rank you are." Entering the home stretch of the season with a 5-8-2 record, P.J. is optimistic that the Pride can finish off strong. "We're going to try and wrestle our best. We're kind of shorthanded with the injuries we've suffered, but we still want to make it to the CAA's and go on to win Nationals." This may be a tall order with the injury bug making its way through the team, but if there is a leader to take the team to national glory, P.J. Gillespie might be just what the doctor ordered.

P.J. Gillespie defeated number 19 nationally ranked wrestler at 165 lbs. Gabriel Burack of the University of Pennsylvania. The Pride dropped the match to U Penn 31 -12 at the Mack Sports Complex on Sunday, January 31, 2010. (Sean M. Gates/ The Chronicle)

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