Pitt wrestling fell to 1-4 on Saturday after losing to unranked Clarion 24-20. Three of Pitt’s wins were by bonus point margins, with Dom Forys earning a tech, and Taleb Rahmani and Ryan Solomon each pinning their opponents. Despite winning by fall, Rahmani did not wrestle as well as he is capable, often trying to hit the “big move” instead of just scoring. Head coach Keith Gavin alerted the Fitzgerald Fieldhouse to this by yelling at Taleb to “get your one” (escape) instead of repeatedly trying to roll and catch his opponent, Avery Shay, on his back. Eventually, Taleb was able to take control of the match, pinning Shay as time expired in the second period.
“He’s really good at smelling blood” Gavin said in our post-match interview. While that is obviously a good thing, sometimes Rahmani can become preoccupied with hitting his patented flashy moves. “It’s good to have that stuff in his back pocket… to hit some home runs,” assessed Gavin. But in the high level tournaments, more traditional wrestling is going to prevail. When “you get to the National tournament in the round of 12, you’re going to need to get your hands locked around the leg and grit one out.” Keith noted Taleb needs to wrestle “the way he’s going to need to at the National tournament” and developing that habit starts in the practice room.
Another habit that will need to start in the practice room is focusing on the details. “We made a lot of mistakes that were like high school mistakes,” Gavin plainly critiqued. Two situations under particular scrutiny were escaping from bottom and finishing takedowns. “We had a great week in practice last week, but you can’t expect everything to be fixed in one good week of practice. This is a long process and we have to remember that.”
Junior LJ Bentley made his season debut against the Golden Eagles, returning from an offseason injury. He faced familiar foe and former teammate Jake Gromacki. LJ looked slick on his feet despite being unable to finish a few takedowns in the first period. It would be Gromacki’s prowess on top, or perhaps Bentley’s struggles on bottom, that would separate the score. “Bottom has always been LJ’s issue.” Compound this with Gromacki practicing in the room with Bentley for close to two years and “that kid knew, in order to beat LJ, he would have to beat him on top.” Gromacki caught LJ in a cradle, and despite being unable to pin him, was able to hold the Panther down for close to a minute, wasting valuable time and racking up four near-fall points. LJ scored a late takedown, but it wouldn’t be enough. “We believe he can be an All American, he has the skills to do that, but you’re going to have to get out on bottom.”
Nick Zanetta continued his run of wrestling well against top opponents, despite losing his match 3-2. Brock Zacherl, the Golden Eagles’ highest ranked athlete at No. 9, is undefeated on the season at 13-0 and has a career record of 94-15 (includes redshirt season). Nick has “been wrestling with a lot of good focus… [he] has all the technical skills… sometimes he overanalyzes and that kind of gets in his way.” Gavin noted Zanetta needed to attack more and not let it become a “one move match.” As with some of his teammates, perfecting the small details may help Nick find even more success. He just needs to focus on the “simple things.”
Another member of Pitt’s starting lineup that has all the requisite skills and abilities, but is having trouble winning, is redshirt sophomore Kellan Stout. After losing to fifth year senior and Jefferson Morgan grad Dustin Conti, Stout’s record fell to 2-7. However just last week he took the No. 5 ranked wrestler in the country to overtime. Keith believes some of Stout’s problems may be mental: “whenever you see something like that, a lot of it is in your head.” Stout, the transfer from Penn State wrestled just 14 matches in his true freshman year, primarily at 184, and even fewer during his redshirt freshman year during which he was stuck behind Matt McCutcheon. Gavin explained this is his first real full season, and his first one as a starter. Kellan has lost a lot of close matches this season, and “with him it’s a confidence thing.” He needs to start “having faith [the matches] will go his way.”
In general, Pitt still has a young team, with only three of its ten starters in their senior years. Even with six of the starters being freshman or sophomores, their pedigree demands better. “We have some young guys that need to do a better job of focusing on the details and the little things.” While more obvious in some than others, the entire lineup needs to perform better as every loss can have conference and National tournament implications. Cleaning up sloppy technique and getting the right mindset will go a long way towards accomplishing this. “The whole team needs it. I think that was clear tonight.”