As we originally reported on 7/14, Micky Phillippi is transferring to Pitt. Having originally committed to Virginia, and after wrestling his redshirt season with the Cavaliers, this will be the second WPIAL transfer Pitt has received this month. Phillippi, a Derry native, and Kellan Stout from Mt. Lebanon will both be welcome additions to the Panthers. I spoke to Micky on Sunday, and asked him a variety of questions.
*This interview has been slightly edited:
Stephen Patrick: You mentioned in the press release that competing in the Fieldhouse will “truly be a home match”. Speak to what competing closer to home and having your friends and family at the match will mean to you.
Micky Phillippi: It’s going to mean a lot. I grew up going to Pitt matches my whole life. It’s a short drive for me and my family so that will be super exciting to do something that I’ve watched my whole life. And like I said it will truly be a home match because when you walk through the Fitzgerald Fieldhouse, everyone in the WPIAL that’s involved in wrestling, it’s like you know each other so it’s like a family in itself.
SP: Coach Gavin and Coach Leen recruited you to Virginia. What initially drew you to them?
MP: Coach Leen is who I contacted first through the whole recruiting process. I ran into him at a camp at Latrobe high school and right away I just like fell in love with the guy. I haven’t had a coach that just made wrestling so fun to learn. He’s excited all the time. So that’s what drew me to him. Then coach Gavin, I’ve been around him a lot, honestly since I was a little kid. I used to go to Pitbull wrestling club with Sunny Abe and he used to go there and he’d coach some camps so I was learning from him for a long time.
SP: Going off of that, was Pitt among your top schools coming out of Derry, and did you consider any others when deciding to transfer?
MP: Honestly, I didn’t really think about any other schools. I knew that I wanted to go to Pitt, so that was like right away. I started to think a little bit about other schools depending on if I could get my release or not but Pitt was pretty much my top option. I wanted to be closer, I wanted to be comfortable. I think being comfortable makes everything a lot easier. I think you need to have everything in line and the comfort factor will be huge for me.
SP: Sometimes it’s harder to transfer in conference…
MP: That made me a little nervous at first. I was like ‘it’s going to suck to lose a year,’ but the more I looked at it, these coaches are amazing, and I feel like I’m going to be ready right away anyway so I don’t think it’s going to be that big of a deal. I think I can have success in three years. A lot of other successful college wrestlers have done it and had amazing careers so hopefully I can do the same.
SP: Have you discussed any long-term plans with the coaching staff regarding what weight you’ll go?
MP: Not exactly. I know we have the idea of me going 133 which is what I thought was going to happen anyway. I feel like 33 is where I fit the best so either 33 or 41.
SP: You trained at Young Guns in high school with some of the WPIAL’s, and thus nation’s, finest. How well did training with all that talent prepare you for college, and what is it about the Strittmatters that creates such a fine club?
MP: Being at Young Guns was huge. Having that in our area was huge for the whole area. I was wrestling with the No 1 and 2 kids in the country in the room, then when I got to college I was so used to wrestling kids of that caliber that it wasn’t as much of a culture shock as I feel like it is for a lot of athletes from other areas because they aren’t used to this on an everyday basis. We train everyday around here with the top guys in the country.
SP: In two of your state finals matches, one vs Seth Carr (South Fayette) and one vs Korbin Myers (Boiling Springs), you rode out your opponent to win. What is it about your top game that allows you to be so successful, what specific rides do you look for?
MP: I think during my matches I’m very relaxed so like whenever I’m on top and there’s short time I’m not freaking out, I’m just sticking to the basics. It’s all about keeping pressure forward and that’s all I do. I’m not trying anything crazy, I’m just trying to win the match. I think that was huge for my top game in high school and I hope it carries over into my college career.
SP: Do you think it’s more of a mental thing than an actual skill?
MP: I definitely think it’s a skill but I think the mentality is huge in general in the sport. Like if you can be relaxed then it makes it a lot easier on you. When you’re feeling pressure and feeling nervous the whole entire time you’re bound to slip up but if you’re just out there having fun and you’re relaxed I feel like that’s huge. I think it’s definitely a mentality; skills are built over repetition through practice but I definitely think it’s a mental thing.
SP: Seven of your fourteen career losses in high school were to Luke Pletcher. Was it more of a mental or physical hurdle you had to get over to finally beat him your senior year, and did that victory change the way you view yourself at all?
MP: I wouldn’t say it changed the way I view myself. Him and I have been wrestling since way before high school. Like from my first year wrestling I’ve wrestled him. We’ve always wrestled. I could never beat him; that was the first time in my whole life beating him. Seven losses, there was a lot more to it. I wouldn’t say it’s a mental thing; him and I wrestled, honestly, three times a week in the practice room. We were making each other better obviously, but at the same time we knew each other. Going into matches both of us knew what was coming. I felt like no matter what it always a flip of a coin then finally at the end I pulled one out. It definitely gave me a little bit of confidence but I’ve never went into a match and, I mean you’re always nervous, but I never went in and thought I was going to lose.
SP: Derry produced a few highly decorated wrestlers in recent years before you started high school in Travis Shaffer and Jimmy Gulibon. As a young wrestler did you look up to them and, if at all, when did you start training with them?
MP: Since I was real young I’ve always looked up to these guys. There was Troy Dolan too before them; he was a three time state champ from my school so I looked up to him. I watched Travis and Jimmy train. I used to go to all their high school matches when I was young. I used to go to Travis’ Pitt matches actually and I used to go to Jimmy’s Penn State matches. I started training with both of them whenever I was in like eighth grade. I got to wrestle with Jimmy a lot which was awesome. Just being in the same room as him, someone you look up to and someone so amazing at the sport so that was cool. And Travis, I still actually work out with Travis now. He’s in the area, he’s home, so I still get to train with him. It’s nice to be around those guys. Like I said I looked up to them and they have a lot of wisdom within the sport so they can teach me a lot.
SP: By all accounts you had a fairly successful redshirt season, what was it like winning your first college tournament (Cleveland State Open), and what specifically do you need to work on moving forward?
MP: Winning that tournament was awesome. It was cool just to get that win under my belt. But I think honestly, I just need to go out there and be comfortable like I’ve been in the past in high school and I think this change is going to be huge for me because I’m getting that comfortable feel back. I think it’ll make my wrestling all that much better. This year I was with some of the top guys in the country and I’ve wrestled some of the top guys and I was close, but I want to win those matches and I think me being comfortable and just going out there and having fun will be huge. I feel like I kind of had my mind in another place before, and now that I’m coming home my mind’s going to be in a better place.
SP: You had some really good practice partners at Virginia with George DiCamillo and Jack Mueller…
MP: Oh yeah. For sure I’m going to look up to George, not only as a wrestler, he was a great person, like in all aspects of life. The dude did everything right. He was really tough guy. I got pretty close with him. He graduated and I’m sure he understands where I’m coming from, he’s a family guy too and likes to be home. It does suck leaving Jack too and not only Jack, you have Louie Hayes, he’s from Illinois he was in my class too and he was a beast, absolutely amazing. I feel like the room at Pitt is just as good. You got Dom Forys and [Nick] Zanetta and the guys they even have coming in now. And then you still have Coach Youtsey. I feel like it’s on the same level for sure.
SP: Have you started training at Pitt yet?
MP: I’ve been there for an RTC practice, a regional training center practice and Dom Forys and I have gone to a lot of the same clubs when we were younger.
SP: You’ll have three years of eligibility remaining after this season. What are your goals?
MP: My goal is 100% to be a National champ every year. Every year it’s the same goal. I’m just happy to be there but I want to be the best I can possibly be and I don’t see why I can’t, if I put the work in and if I’m comfortable I don’t see why I can’t do it. Yeah, my goal is to be a National champion and be a great person overall.