The Keith Gavin era got off to a good start on Friday when Pitt beat Cal State Bakersfield for their first win of the season, and Gavin’s first win as a head coach. With LJ Bentley and Dom Forys out of the lineup to begin the year, the Panthers would have to send out backups Brendan Price and Jake Cherry at 125 and 133. Price lost a close match 9-5 but Cherry would get teched bringing the team score to 8-0 CSUB right off the bat. Next Nick Zanetta wrestled an extremely close match with No. 19 Russell Rohlfing but fell in sudden victory 7-5. At 149 Robert Lee controlled his way to an 8-1 victory, setting up the two matches that would prove decisive in Pitt’s win.
The always exciting and unpredictable Taleb Rahmani, wrestling Cole Hammond, younger brother of All American Bryce Hammond, lived up to his reputation from last year in just the first few minutes of the match. As Jordan Leen described in my preview, Taleb is “great from being underneath a front headlock.” As Rahmani demonstrated on multiple occasions last season, he can often pin opponents from this position by reaching both of his arms around his opponent’s arms and rolling to one side, sticking the other wrestler squarely on his back. It is a move not seen often in college wrestling, but Taleb has shown a consistent ability to hit it, and he did again vs CSUB. This was crucial, giving Pitt six team points and bringing the score to 11-9.
Jake Wentzel also came up clutch, earning a dominant technical fall over No. 19 Bryan Battisto 15-0. Wentzel used his raw strength, working Battisto over for multiple sets of nearfalls, and completely controlling the match. This will surely catapult Wentzel into the rankings. After trading decisions at 174 and 184, Kellan Stout surrendered a major decision to No. 10 in the nation Matt Williams. As it so often happens, this put the dual in the hands of the heavyweight, fifth-year senior Ryan Solomon. The No. 8 ranked wrestler left no doubt about it, handling Jarrod Snyder 10-0, and finalizing the team score at 21-18, giving Gavin his first dual win as a head coach.
The second dual meet of Gavin’s tenure, versus No. 18 Wisconsin, wouldn’t go so well. Again, Pitt lost the first two matches, but Nick Zanetta earned his way back to the win column with a solid 7-3 decision over Cole Martin of the Badgers. Pitt lost the next six matches before Ryan Solomon, again, would take the final bout in Pitt’s favor, this time 4-0. Of note, Taleb Rahmani lost to unranked Andrew Crone 3-1, Jake Wentzel gave No. 10 Evan Wick a hard-fought match falling 6-3, and Kellan Stout gave No. 16 Hunter Ritter all he could handle but ultimately lost 5-4. Pitt traveled Saturday, setting up a Sunday matinee vs the No. 12 Arizona State Sun Devils.
As in both matches on Friday, Pitt lost the first two, but this time by a larger margin. Highly ranked Ryan Millhof, a transfer from Oklahoma, made quick work of Price pinning him in 57 seconds. After Cherry got majored by Ali Naser, Nick Zanetta found himself in his second OT match of the weekend. After no score in the first sudden victory period and trading escapes in the top-bottom round, Zanetta would dig deep and get the takedown in the SV-2 period, ending the match and getting Pitt on the board.
The next two wrestlers in ASU’s lineup are both Franklin Regional products and both Josh’s: Maruca at 149 and Shields at 157. Maruca handled Robert Lee 7-2, bringing up a rematch from the NCAA tournament last year that saw Rahmani eliminate Shields. With a year to plot his vengeance and on his home mat, Shields would win this time 4-2. Something tells me this won’t be the last time those two wrestle.
The next set of teammates in Arizona State’s lineup also have two things in common. Both St John Bosco products and both Valencias: Anthony at 165 and Zahid at 174. The highly decorated brothers are ranked No. 8 and No. 1 respectively. They lived up to their rankings, earning a major decision and fast first period fall. After a back-and-forth match at 184 that saw Gregg Harvey lose 6-3, Kellan Stout would earn the second and final win for the Panthers in a defensive 2-0 decision. Perhaps the most anticipated match of the dual between No. 3 Tanner Hall and No. 8 Solomon featured very little scoring as Hall held on for a 2-0 win.
Overall, Pitt went 4-16 and got outscored (team) 58-12 by ASU and Wisconsin. Obviously with Bentley and Forys in the lineup these numbers are very different. There were some definite positives from the weekend, notably in the way Zanetta, Rahmani, Wentzel, and Solomon competed. While there’s still a lot of work to do, it’s a long time till March.