Last Updated: Wed Feb 22, 2023 - 3:00AM
After his older brother Drew set a high standard, Kurt Phipps has reached even greater heights on the mat. Phipps became the first Norwin wrestler to win individual state gold, and now he’s a top grappler at Bucknell University. Phipps is the featured athlete on this installment of the Westmorland Alum Q&A.
Kurt commenced his varsity career at Norwin as a freshman in 2016-17, and he wasted no time in becoming a force. Competing at 106 pounds, Phipps went 36-5 overall. In the Class AAA Section 1 Tournament, Phipps fell to Darren Miller of Kiski Area in the final. However, he rebounded in the WPIAL Tournament, besting Shaler Area’s Ryan Sullivan 3-1 to capture district gold. In the PIAA bracket, Phipps placed seventh.
The following year, he improved to 39-1, winning at 106 pounds against Franklin Regional’s Carter Dibert 7-2 in the sectional and Alejandro Herrera of Seneca Valley 1-0 in the WPIAL final. However, Herrera prevailed in the rematch in the state championship bout, edging Phipps 1-0 in a tiebreaker.
The 2018-19 campaign followed a similar path for Phipps, although he competed at 120 pounds. He posted a mark of 36-3, winning the sectional via fall against Ethan Berginc of Hempfield Area and ousting Belle Vernon Area’s Logan Seliga 4-1 in the WPIAL final. However, Phipps lost a 9-5 decision to Sean Pierson of Nazareth in the state championship bout. Additionally, the Knights qualified for the WPIAL Class AAA team tournament, scoring a victory against Butler Area in the first round before falling to Seneca Valley in the quarterfinals.
Phipps finally broke through as a senior, though, registering a mark of 39-1 at 126 pounds. After a runner-up finish in the section tournament, Phipps rebounded by winning the WPIAL title, claiming a 3-1 decision against Rocco Welsh of Waynesburg Central. Phipps and Welsh also met in the PIAA championship bout, as Phipps notched a 7-6 decision to secure state gold. Collectively, Norwin defeated West Mifflin in the WPIAL Class AAA team play-in round, but came up short against Canon-McMillan in the first round.
After concluding his Norwin career with a record of 150-10, two section titles, four WPIAL crowns, and a state championship, Phipps matriculated to Bucknell University, where his older brother had also competed.
As a freshman with the Bison in 2020-21, Phipps competed at 141 pounds, going 6-6, including one fall and three major decisions. Wrestling an abbreviated season, the Bison compiled a record of 0-3 overall, including 0-1 in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA).
Last season, Phipps dropped down to 133, amassing a mark of 20-11, registered two pins, one technical fall, and six major decisions. Bucknell went 12-6 overall, including 7-3 in the EIWA. The Bison placed 11th in the EIWA Tournament.
This season, Phipps has compiled a record of 28-9, securing two falls, one tech fall, and three major decisions, and he’s currently ranked 26th nationally. The Bison finished the regular season with a 6-9 overall record and a 4-6 mark in the EIWA. Next up are the conference championships on March 4th and 5th.
Kurt set aside time to answer questions about the impact his brother had on his career, the significance of winning a state title at Norwin, and which wrestler, past or present, he’d choose to compete against.
Q: You have compiled the best record on your team so far this season. What have been the keys to your success?
A: Consistency in all aspects of training, including physical training, mental training, and nutrition. My lightweight coach Tyler Smith (Franklin Regional graduate) has been working with me consistently to improve my weaker strengths and develop new ways to score and has been a huge help in improving my style.
Q: What have been your biggest areas of growth from your freshman year at Bucknell until now?
A: Hand fighting has been my biggest area of gain in wrestling.
Q: How would you describe your wrestling style?
A: Gritty - I know where I want to be and when I get to those positions, I try to take as much out of my opponents as possible.
Q: What team and individual goals did you set for this season?
A: My goals are to do everything I can to give myself the best opportunity to make it onto the NCAA podium. I am focused on the process and letting the results solve themselves. For the team, I want us to get a trophy at the EIWA tournament, but more than that, I just want each person to reach their individual goals, as everyone has different aspirations?
Q: What led to the decision to change weight classes after your freshman season?
A: I was a small 141 pounder my freshman year, but that was where I could get in the lineup, so I built up some muscle. When given the opportunity the next season, I worked my way down to 133 where I feel like I can compete at my best.
Q: You narrowly missed the chance to compete along with your brother, Drew, at Bucknell. Despite that, what impact has he had on your career?
A: I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am today without Drew. He’s the person I look up to most and I always saw the things he did to become so good, so I knew what it was going to take to get to this level. Now I want to be even better than he was, so I have to keep stepping up my game haha!
Q: What led to your decision to attend Bucknell?
A: The opportunity to challenge myself at the Division I level, but more importantly, to be able to get a degree from a prestigious academic university.
Q: What is your major and ideal future profession?
A: I am a double major in civil engineering and management. My ultimate goal is to become a Structural Design Engineer and be able to design structures that are innovative and sustainable for the environment.
Q: What has been your favorite college course?
A: Project Management.
Q: You became the first Norwin wrestler to achieve individual state gold. What did that accomplishment mean to you?
A: That was my dream for many years, so it felt surreal that something that has been such a motivation to me for years was finally obtained. I faced many setbacks to get to that one, so it shows the power of never giving up and going back to work when things get tough.
Q: Aside from the PIAA title, what was your fondest memory at Norwin?
A: Learning to lift with Mr. Jasko. He was a physical education teacher at the school and would help set up lifting programs for me and taught me what strength training was and how to do lifts correctly. He is one of my favorite people in the Norwin community, and I can’t thank him enough for all he has done for me.
Q: Do you still follow Norwin athletics and WPIAL wrestling?
A: I still follow along, for sure; first section title in Norwin history this year!
Q: If you could wrestle anyone, past or present, who would you choose? What would be the outcome?
A: Spencer Lee because he was always in the Young Guns room as I was growing up and I appreciate how hard he worked and how he dominates at every level of the sport. With that being said, I think I would beat him. I’ve heard the Knights RTC is trying to have an exhibition dual meet this summer if he wants to come back to WPIAL and scrap.
Q: What superstitions or rituals do you have before, during, or after a match?
A: I do a lot of positive self-talk and dial in while pacing for a few matches before I wrestle.
Q: If you could give yourself advice when you were a high school freshman, what would it be?
A: Have fun with wrestling; focus on learning how to wrestle and score points in every position instead of just trying to win.