Pat Pecora-Bob Rukavina

Pitt-Johnstown wrestling coach Pat Pecora, left, presents an award to basketball coach Bob Rukavina for his 500th win last weekend, prior to a PSAC game in Johnstown, PA., Wednesday, Jan.22, 2020.

Pitt-Johnstown might not be the biggest or most high-profile athletic program in the NCAA Division II.

But the Mountain Cats sure have produced some lofty numbers while building a successful resume.

The latest evidence comes in the form of veteran wrestling coach Pat Pecora’s 616th career win with the Mountain Cats.

In his 44th season, Pecora already had more dual-meet victories than any coach in NCAA Division II history prior to Friday night’s 44-0 win at Shippensburg University. No. 616 ties Pecora with Dale Thomas, the late former Oregon State coach who spent 34 seasons leading the NCAA Division I Beavers to a 616-168-13 mark from 1957 to 1990.

Pecora (616-151-8) will have his first shot at breaking the record when fourth-ranked Pitt-Johnstown (19-3) hosts 11th-ranked Mercyhurst University (9-3) on Friday at the Sports Center. 

That match should bring a big crowd to the Richland Township campus.

In addition to developing a consistent winner that claimed NCAA Division II national titles in 1996 and 1999, Pecora has molded a tight-knit wrestling family.

Alumni frequently return for matches, hall of fame inductions and other events. The wrestlers support each other during the good times and have each other’s figurative backs during the difficult moments such as when Pecora battled cancer nearly a decade ago.

Pitt-Johnstown men’s basketball coach Bob Rukavina has a handle on how Pecora might be feeling as the big match nears.

In his 31st season, Rukavina won his 500th career game with the Mountain Cats last month and his current 502 victories are the most in program history.

The games leading up to Rukavina’s milestone win generated excitement and anticipation. When the Cats were upset by Mercyhurst University to keep “Ruk” at No. 499, a huge crowd that included many former players and area coaches, departed the Sports Center disappointed that an all-around good guy had to wait to celebrate.

Rukavina reached 500 when the Mountain Cats edged Slippery Rock University 72-69 at the Sports Center on Jan. 18. 

Under Rukavina, Pitt-Johnstown has had four NCAA Division II Tournament appearances (1997, 1998, 2008, 2009).

In 1991-92, Rukavina led UPJ to its first winning record since 1979. Pitt-Johnstown had 10 straight losing seasons with a combined 175 losses prior to Rukavina’s promotion to head coach in May 1989 after one year as an assistant coach. Now winning is expected during basketball season at UPJ.

These milestone moments are keeping Pitt-Johnstown Sports Information Director Chris Caputo busy while documenting history and spreading the word.

It’s been one of those years. The string of historic accomplishments even dates to the 2018-19 academic calendar.

On April 27, the Pitt-Johnstown baseball team beat Seton Hill University 5-4 at Sargent’s Stadium at the Point to split a doubleheader. Of greater significance, coach Todd Williams collected his 500th career win with the Mountain Cats.

Entering his 23rd season, Williams has a 502-489-4 record while helping to rebuild a program that had fallen on tough times from the mid-1980s until a turnaround early in his tenure.

Williams has led Pitt-Johnstown to 10 seasons with at least 20 wins and four seasons with 30 or more victories.

Pitt-Johnstown, which now competes in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC), is fortunate to have coaches who not only are successful, but also stick around for decades.

There is one more Pitt-Johnstown coach in the 500-win club.

Former UPJ women’s basketball coach Jodi Gault had a 540-156 record and .776 winning percentage in 25 seasons from 1982 to 2007. Gault led UPJ to 15 NCAA Tournament appearances, five regional championships and a trip to the Division II Final Four in 1987.

The numbers add up for UPJ. Pecora, Rukavina, Williams and Gault have combined to produce 2,160 wins – and counting.

Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.

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