The University of Pittsburgh wrestling team will commence its 2017-2018 season on Saturday November 11th at the Eastern Michigan Open as the 24th ranked team in the country according to the first NWCA Coaches Poll. This will be Keith Gavin’s first season as a head coach, and his first season coaching at his alma mater. Previously, Gavin served as an assistant at Virginia and Oklahoma. He will be flanked by assistants Jordan Leen, Drew Headlee, and volunteer assistant coach Conor Youtsey.
All four members of the coaching staff sport impressive resumes from their collegiate careers, and in the case of Gavin and Headlee, senior level freestyle experience as well. Headlee was an All American at 133, Leen a national champ at 157, and Gavin a national champ at 174. As such, for this preview, I will be interviewing Drew Headlee about the light-weights (125, 133, 141), Jordan Leen about the middle-weights (149, 157, 165), and Keith Gavin about the upper-weights (174, 184, 197, 285). It will be split into these three sections, and released over the next several days. I will also get some perspective on the rule changes, and coach Gavin’s overall thoughts.
Let’s hear what Drew had to say about the light-weights.
125: LJ Bentley will be coming off a somewhat disappointing season. After qualifying for the NCAA tournament as a freshman and going 1-2, the St. Eds graduate failed to qualify as a sophomore. LJ sustained an injury this summer, and may not be ready for the start of the season. But Drew expects him to make a full recovery and rejoin the lineup soon. In the meantime, Brendan Price and Jake Cherry will compete for the spot. When Bentley returns though, it should be his: “I know he’s got some high goals” Drew commented regarding LJ’s unfinished business from last year. Brendan Price came out of brief retirement last year for the North Carolina match, but is now fully back on the team. Cherry “is a true freshman this year who is a PA kid who’s tough, from Central Dauphin, a good high school.” Drew expects him to fill some time early in the season and possibly compete for the full-time spot: “that’s our one weight class that were actually most unsure of right now.”
133: “Dom Forys is our stud.” Yes, he is. Forys will begin the season as the highest ranked Panther at No. 8 according to FloWrestling. “I mean talk about unfinished business, he’s the biggest one you think of.” Dom lost in the Round of 16 last year, two wins shy of being an All American despite starting the tournament with the No. 6 seed. “He’s been up there with a lot of the top-top guys.” He “expects a lot out of himself, has been training hard, and really really wants to be on that podium at the end of the year.” Drew elaborated that Dom is who the team looks toward for energy whether in practice, during a turning point in a match, or tournament. He is a relentless scorer and is always looking for the next points. Dom will also have two new practice partners this year in Micky Phillippi who transferred from Virginia, and Samat Nadyrbek Uulu, who is a resident athlete at the Pittsburgh RTC: “It helps a ton.” Not that Dom didn’t have quality practice partners in the past, but Micky “might have the highest goals on the team… and Samat is a world class wrestler. He pushes Dom a lot in ways he doesn’t get to see from college style wrestlers so it’s definitely a good look for him.” He added that Phillippi is one of the best conditioned athletes he’s ever seen, and can wrestle for hours. Combine that with two time All American Conor Youtsey and true freshman KJ Fenstermacher, and the light weights have a really good practice situation. With commits from Newell, Matthews, Kemerer and Davis, “looking into the future is really really bright.”
Note: Fenstermacher will redshirt this year and Phillippi is ineligible due to transfer rules.
141: Nick Zanetta will start at 141. The Keystone Oaks graduate is entering his final season in a Pitt singlet, which also marks the end of the Zanetta dynasty. His older brother Anthony started at Pitt in 2009, and there has been a Zanetta on the roster ever since. Nick has not made an NCAA tournament yet in his career (was one win shy last season), but that seems likely to change this year. “He is one of the most technical guys we have on the team … he’s a much different wrestler than say Micky or Dom but he is very methodical and technical in a lot of the things he does, and that plays really well into Keith’s style.” Over the summer Nick had some notable wins at freestyle tournaments, most impressively over Chad Red from Nebraska. “He was the number one recruit in the country a year ago, so that was a huge win for him. There weren’t many people in that building that expected that, but Nick dominated him.” For Nick, this season will be all about putting it together and executing. “He’s one of the best wrestlers on the team.”
Side note: Resident athletes Samat (57kg) and Jon Gingrich (125) will be competing for the Pittsburgh RTC for the first time this weekend at the Dave Schultz Memorial Open in Colorado Springs. They will be coached by Drew Headlee. Full entry list can be found here.
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