Here is Part III of our Pitt wrestling 2017-2018 Season Preview (check out part I here, read part II here). Thanks to Keith Gavin for taking the time to talk about the four upper-weights, and to Drew Headlee and Jordan Leen as well for the first two previews.
174: Austin Bell is the projected starter at 174. Bell had some decent wins last year during his redshirt campaign before suffering an injury that would end his season. The coaching staff is looking for Bell to get back on track and get back to his winning ways. “He’s used to having success; he had a pretty successful high school career. So, we’re looking forward to see what he can do.” Bell won an impressive variety of tournaments in high school: WPIAL, Ironman, PowerAde, Escape the Rock. He finished with a 160-24 record. Junior Cam Jacobson is another option at this weight class, however Bell will be the main guy.
184: Zach Bruce will most likely return as the starter, however redshirt freshman Gregg Harvey will vie for the top spot as well. Bruce went 9-18 as a freshman, but markedly improved as a sophomore, going 14-12. By my math, that’s a 61.5% jump. If he continues at that pace (and wrestles the same 26 matches he did last year), he’ll go 22-4. Zach is tall for his weight class with long arms and legs. This provides him leverage in certain positions, and lends itself well to his riding ability. Harvey went 23-15 as a true freshman last year during his redshirt season. Harvey is a tough kid out of Boyertown, PA, placing twice at states and going 168-40 in high school. It appears the true starter at this weight may not be determined until later in the season, after the coaching staff has a chance to evaluate both options. “We’ll see Zach and Harvey fight it out for 184.”
Note: Highly touted true freshman Nino Bonaccorsi will redshirt this season. “He’ll be wrestling in the open tournaments… we’ll keep a close eye on him and see how he’s progressing.”
197: Kellan Stout, a transfer from Penn State will start at 197 this season. “He’s doing a good job so far, he’s working hard.” Kellan is the clear favorite at this weight class, which is one of the reasons he transferred from PSU. Stout is Mt. Lebanon High School’s all-time win leader with 138 and first state champion since Kurt Angle. In his two seasons at PSU (one redshirt and one stuck behind Matt McCutcheon) he amassed a 17-8 record at open tournaments. “He’s going to be our guy there.”
285: Ryan Solomon, the fifth year senior and round of 12 placer will be the man at heavyweight once again. “He’s a hard working kid. He’s excited for his senior year and trying to get on the podium.” Solomon has a few marquee wins over the last several seasons and has consistently been ranked in the top 20 (starts this season at No. 9). He beat Ty Walz (Virginia Tech) in the ACC semifinals and he beat Jacob Kasper (Duke) in a dual meet. Ryan has also suffered a few injuries during his career, and coach Gavin wants to take the smarter-not-harder training approach. “We’re training them smart too… those guys have been through the grind and Ryan has had his share of tweaks and injuries so we want to make sure that he’s healthy.”
In addition to the fresh season, Solomon has some better training partners this year by way of the Pittsburgh RTC and new recruits. In addition to freshman Cole Rickert, “we have resident athlete Jon Gingrich… he gets his hands on Ryan quite a bit too. Getting training partners for a heavy weight is a big deal. It’s hard to find guys that size to train with you, especially when you’re pretty good and can wrestle at a high pace which Ryan can. He’s in a great training situation right now, and we’re hoping that is going to be the thing that gets him over the hump.”
Concluding Thoughts: “We’re excited” were the first words out of Gavin’s mouth when asked if he had any general thoughts on the upcoming season. Well, I think everyone’s excited. The coaches are excited. Every athlete I talk to is excited. Every fan I talk to is excited. Every alumnus I talk to is excited. The arrow is pointing straight up for Pitt wrestling right now, and with some of the recruits and transfers that have been pouring in, it may continue to point upwards for a long time.
Not to get too far ahead of ourselves though. “With the way our sport is, it’s all about how you finish.” Gavin reiterated how the team starts isn’t a big deal; focusing on improving and taking it one step at a time is the mission. “The focus is everybody. All 30 guys on our team striving to reach their full potential and get better. And if we do that I think we should have a good year.” Coach Leen had a similar assessment. “There’s certainly ability on this team, and we’re just all hoping to incrementally improve and grow together to where they’re able to compete and wrestle at their potential. We believe their potential is very high, so our goal as a team is to develop every day.” It’s a young team as Gavin pointed out. There are only three (Forys, Zanetta, and Solomon) seniors in the starting lineup. With all the excitement around the program, it’s shaping up to be a fun year.