The Pitt wrestling team continues to show improvement, even in losses, as they fell to No. 12 South Dakota State 25-13 Friday night. The Jack Rabbits invaded the Fitzgerald Field House as the clear favorite, but the Panthers would take four matches, with two others being one-two point tossups. “They’re wrestling more aggressive.” Ever since those ugly losses to Clarion and Bucknell, the team has been improving each match. “It’s been since the beginning of the year. I told the team afterwards ‘I wish we had this in the beginning of the year, imagine how good we’d be now.’”
Head coach Keith Gavin, though not pleased with the result, was encouraged by his team’s attitude and effort. “They’re wrestling a much more aggressive pace and match, and I think it wasn’t just tonight,” alluding to the consistent improvement all season. “In the beginning that wasn’t there.”
One wrestler in particular that had one of his most complete matches all year vs SDSU, and has been steadily developing, is Jake Wentzel. “Jake’s doing a good job. He still needs to find a leg attack.” Gavin noted Wentzel did not rely on shooting as much in high school, so the coaching staff is working with him on this now. One aspect Jake is doing well with is getting “his hands on the guy and trying to create something, because when people shoot on him he’s pretty dangerous. Before he was just standing there waiting for the guy to make a mistake; now he’s trying to go get him and make him make a mistake.” Anyone that’s seen Jake wrestle knows how hard he can throw double under hooks, now he just needs to diversify his attacks.
It’s never a dull moment when the top ranked wrestler comers to town. Seth Gross of SDSU is a bona fide stud, returning NCAA finalist, expert from the top position, and undefeated this year at his weight class*. Dom Forys, never backing down from a challenge, came out firing on all cylinders. After getting in deep on a nice shot, Gross was able to counter, lock Forys in a near cradle, and almost end the match. “He gave up ten points off that one situation. He had a high crotch and he needs to stick with his head on the outside there; [Gross] does a great job of shoving it to the inside and he’s good at that cradle. And when Dom got out of the cradle he was in a turk and got turned again for four.” Gross would get another turn to end the first period up 14-0. A quick takedown in the second ended it with a techfall for the odds-on favorite to win NCAAs this year. “[Forys] is pretty down on himself right now but… that was a win-win situation: you get a look at the guy and now you get to make your adjustments.”
Kellan Stout returned to the starting lineup at 197 after a few weeks off to focus on his training. Some sports may send a player down to the minors after a similar situation to face easier competition and get back into game shape. Not wrestling though. Kellan would face the 11th ranked wrestler in his first match back. Nate Rotert beat Stout 4-3, and that includes a stalling point on Stout. So, again, while the result wasn’t there, the “actual wrestling,” as Gavin pointed out, has improved.
In other matches of note, LJ Bentley took out 19th ranked Connor Brown 5-2 with two very slick takedowns. Gregg Harvey continues to show why he’s a role model for always giving “110%” as one fan pointed out on twitter. 12th ranked Luke Zilverberg majored Taleb Rahmani 10-2, but the match was certainly closer than the score indicates.
*Gross bumped up to 141 when SDSU wrestled Wyoming to take on fellow top-ranked wrestler, Bryce Meredith. Gross lost 4-2.
In what’s usually a boring and cliched trend on the internet to share a picture of when you’re ten years younger, Pitt wrestling used last Thursday to make some exciting news. They will be debuting the retro singlet vs Virginia at the Peterson Event Center February 16th. Whose idea was it? “Drew’s the fashionista on staff.”