P.J. Gillespie’s eyes lit up when the 165-pound bracket at the 2011 NCAA Wrestling Championships in Philadelphia was released and he saw a manageable path to the semifinals. But his quarterfinal match with Oklahoma’s Tyler Caldwell, who he’d beaten 2-1 during his sophomore season, was tied 1-1 when Caldwell escaped Gillespie’s grasp to notch a 2-1 victory.
Gillespie rebounded, winning his first consolation match, 11-4, to secure what he long pursued—All-America recognition.
“Looking back on it, I can’t dwell on a loss,” Gillespie said. “At the time, I was a little bit disappointed because I definitely had the potential to be in the semifinals. When it comes down to that one point, you don’t want to make any mistakes but you also don’t want to not do enough to win. I gave it my all, but it didn’t work out in my favor.
“Still, there’s no shame in being an All-American,” he continued. “It was a great feeling. That’s what I’d been working for my entire career.”
The greatest achievement in his wrestling career is also his greatest motivational tool. He made trips to the NCAA Championships as a freshman and sophomore but didn’t play. Last spring, he finished eighth at the national championships, but there were seven competitors above him on the podium. He hopes to climb it even further in 2012, perhaps all the way to the top. For his senior season, d1collegewrestling.net ranked Gillespie fifth in the country at 165 pounds.
As a team, Hofstra enters the year ranked 21st. The roster has five wrestlers who hail from Long Island: Gillespie, John Glenn grad Nick Terdick and a trio of Wantagh alumni—Steve Bonanno, Matt Loew and Joe Kavanagh.
The Gillespie family is used to challenging each other for wrestling hardware. P.J. trained with his father, Paul, who was a two-time All-American at Division I West Chester University, since he started wrestling in third grade.
“Up until now, [my dad has] done better than me in college—he has two All-Americans under his belt. I don’t have that yet,” Gillespie said. “My dad got me into it and he’s always pushed me and motivated me to do the best I can.”
The younger Gillespie was a five-year varsity letterman and four-time All-State selection at Long Beach High School. He finished third three times at states until finally winning the 145-pound state championship in 2007, going 41-0 on the year.
Gillespie’s offseason was brief. After nationals, Pride wrestlers were given a couple weeks off before entering their summer lifting and conditioning program. The preseason began in September, with the regular-season schedule kicking off in November. Gillespie will cross paths with numerous wrestlers ranked ahead of him at December’s Cliff Keen Las Vegas Collegiate Wrestling Invitational.
“I’m feeling pretty good coming into the year,” Gillespie said. “I’m just lifting, running and wrestling hard. I want to build off of what I did last year and finish higher than eighth at nationals. And, of course, I want to get that national title.”