Here is Part II of the 2017-2018 Pitt Wrestling preview, focusing on 149, 157, and 165 (you can read part I here). I interviewed assistant coach Jordan Leen about these weight classes, and the new rules for this NCAA season.
149: Robert Lee, aptly nicknamed “The General”, has rotated between 141 and 149 in his career, but this year will be staying at 149 full time. Coach Leen classifies Lee in a similar fashion to 141 starter Nick Zanetta. They both “have experience, and both lack results that reflect their abilities.” Leen notes that the new coaching staff was “wowed by their skills” upon arriving on campus. “We’re looking forward to the year to see if they’re able to put together a seven minute package that reflects how good they are, and we’re hopeful we can help them do that.” Leen stated Lee has plenty of talent and ability (he was a 3x state champ in high school), and just needs to focus on development and consistency. When you focus on development “you’re able to enjoy the process a little bit more, and when you’re able to enjoy the process a little bit more, hopefully, you’re able to have more consistent results.”
157: ACC Champion Taleb Rahmani will return at 157 this season. Anyone that has watched Taleb wrestle would agree with coach Leen’s description of his talents: unique and innovative. The creativity behind Taleb’s style makes him fun to watch of course, but it also makes him a threat. A threat to score or pin from any position. Although the staff is helping him develop a more rounded game, Taleb thrives on making his opponents’ weaknesses his strengths. “Some of his stronger positions are inherently non-dominant… He’s great from an over hook, he’s great from being underneath a front headlock… He has developed those abilities and those skills through the trial and error process. He likes that aspect of the sport.” It will be interesting to see if Taleb can continue his success, now that the ACC, and nation, has been put on notice. With all the optimism coming from Pitt’s room, here’s betting he will.
165: Jake Wentzel, a two-time PIAA state champion and South Park grad, redshirted last year. But we got glimpses of what’s in store from the various competitions he participated in. Wentzel majored Taleb at the Blue-Gold match last season. He went 2-2 at Midlands and 3-2 at the Keystone Classic. He finished the season 8-5 but won seven of those matches with bonus points (2 majors, 3 techs, 2 pins). “He’s been really impressive. He was probably our most consistent worker over the summer. He is talented but he’s also young… he has some good skills, but also has some room to grow. He’s very strong and very committed.” While Jake’s natural strength will always be an asset, Leen was more impressed with his dedication. He is “consistently getting better because of his level of commitment.” Leen believes this devotion will take Jake very far in college wrestling, not just this season, but over the next four.
Rules: There are several rule changes in NCAA wrestling this year. One of them is particularly confusing. So, let’s turn to the Cornell grad for some clarification. “The big change is the 90 degree danger zone. So, if a wrestler is stuck in a position that was previously not considered control, like a scramble position, … If they’re back stays 90 degrees towards the mat, then the referee will start to count ‘Danger 1’ and if he gets to ‘Danger 3’ then he will reward the takedown and begin counting nearfall, if the wrestler is in nearfall range.” There was some outward and frank questioning of this rule during the offseason, including this tweet from Illinois senior and two time NCAA champion Isiah Martinez. But coach Leen is not as concerned. Pitt had its wrestle-offs last Friday, which is officiated by a real NCAA referee. “We didn’t see a danger call one time, which was really surprising to us.” John Hnath, noted NCAA ref, explained the “fine print” of the rule to the team on Thursday. According to Hnath, if both wrestlers’ backs are more than 90 degrees exposed to the mat, which is very common during a scramble, then that is still considered neutral, and there will be no call. Leen looks forward to the Clarion Open this weekend where Pitt will have a few guys competing, to see how the rule is interpreted in live action. “I tend to think that you’ll see it more in really really tightly contested matches with… high level guys doing everything they can to not give up a takedown.” With the prevalence of scrambling in NCAA wrestling right now, this rule has the potential to alter the outcome of matches. Hopefully, the athletes can adjust.
Stay tuned for Part III.