LEWISBURG — It is a moment Dan Wirnsberger will never forget.
“It was 14 years ago when the program was just starting its rebirth,” the Bucknell University wrestling coach said. “I was in Florida and Bill Graham, our benefactor, was being honored as donor of the year.
“Myself, Mr. Graham and then-Athletic Director John Hardt sat down around a table and we went through a list of goals everybody wanted to see accomplished.”
One of those goals — which was high on Graham’s list — was to sell out Sojka Pavilion for a wrestling match.
Friday night, Graham can check it off personally as he will be one of the more than 4,000 people in attendance as the Bison host No. 1 Penn State.
The match is set to begin at 7 p.m.
“This is the 14th year of the program and the 13th year of competition,” said Wirnsberger. “This is something Mr. Graham always wanted. I always thought it was a great thing for him to say and believe that we could get here.
“This is just huge for our alumni base and for our Bucknell community which has seen the ups and downs the program has gone through.”
This will be the first time the Bison will wrestle the No. 1 team in the country at home since the program restarted 14 years ago. The Nittany Lions join a list that includes Iowa, Oklahoma and then No. 2 Oklahoma State as teams that have been ranked in the top 10 and visited Sojka.
“We have had some big names come here,’ said Wirnsberger. “But honestly at this time, there is no bigger name than Penn State. For them to turn around and visit us just 50 miles down the road after we wrestled there last year just shows what type of program they are and what they think of us and the direction we are going in.”
Wrestling the No. 1 team in the country in front of a sellout crowd at home is something senior captain Nick Stephani had always hoped for, but never thought would happen.
“This is way more than I expected,” he said. “I knew Bucknell was a smaller school, but to have the opportunity to wrestle in front of 4,000 fans and the No. 1 team in the country is pretty cool.”
The atmosphere Friday night will be something the Bison are not used, to but are prepared to embrace.
“It is going to be wild,” said sophomore Matt Kolonia. “We are taking it as just another match, but it is going to be something to wrestle in front of a crowd like that.”
The match Friday night for the Bison is more than just a chance to wrestle the top-ranked team in the country, which owns seven of the last eight national championships. It is just another step in the journey Wirnsberger, Graham and the university started 14 years ago.
“This match is just so important for the direction of the program,” said Wirnsberger. “That a team like Penn State doesn’t think it is waste of their time to come down the road to face us says a lot about the program and the vision that Mr. Graham and everybody else had when this all started 14 years ago.
“This is a big thing for our community and the central Pennsylvania wrestling community. It is something that we as a program can continue to build upon.”
The Bison will be underdogs to the Lions, who handed Bucknell a 36-6 loss at Rec Hall in State College last year. In some ways, the score Friday night may not be the most important thing.
“Of course I want to win the match and see the athletes develop and get better,” said Wirnsberger. “But from the view of the program this is a huge win for us.
“To sell out Sojka and have Penn State visit us, a team that basically can pick and choose where they go and who they wrestle, says something about the program and the direction we are going in. This is huge and something that myself, the Bucknell wrestling community, the university and everybody else associated with us can be very proud of.”