Pitt’s match vs Virginia on Friday night was a culmination of many events. The one and only dual this year at the Peterson Event Center, Alumni Night, Senior Night, a tribute video to Rande Stottlemyer, and of course, the final home and ACC dual of the 2017-2018 season. Pitt dominated 28-9, taking seven of ten with four bonus point wins. Not to mention, two of UVA’s wins, Louie Hayes over LJ Bentley at 125 and Andrew Atkinson over Jake Wentzel at 165, were in overtime. However, this match was all about the seniors, and they did not disappoint.
First up for the class of 2018 was Ryan Solomon. While he’s certainly more used to ending the dual than starting it, it did not appear to matter. Solomon manhandled Tyler Love 8-0, not even coming close to surrendering a point. Although a solid performance, the two-time state champ still has a few things to work on: “Just working on my feet. I know a lot of those guys (fellow ACC heavyweights) are good at top, but I have a great partner. Jon Gingrich (PWC resident athlete) is pretty tough on top and we’ve been working a lot.”
At 133, No. 11 Dom Forys was slated to face No. 9 Jack Mueller in what would have been the highest ranked bout the of dual. However, for unknown reasons, Mueller did not compete. It appears on the surface, the UVA coaching staff may have held Mueller out to protect his seed at the ACC tournament, a practice that has been under fire recently in college wrestling. It denies fans the most entertaining matches, and unfairly forces an athlete make weight only to not wrestle. But again, it is unknown why Mueller did not wrestle.
Facing backup Sam Book, a freshman, Dom Forys came out flying, racking up takedown after takedown, eventually leading to a 22-5 technical fall. “It feels amazing. I can’t be happier with my decision to go to Pitt and wrestle here,” Forys reflected on his last home match in a Pitt singlet. This win brought Forys’ season record to 14-3, and his career mark to 79-24. He will surely be missed.
Up next at 141, Nick Zanetta closed out his Pitt home career with a win as well. Ending in the Peterson Event Center was sort of poetic for Nick, as he considers the 2014 dual against Penn State in the Pete “one of the coolest moments of my wrestling career.” Nick also drew attention to the fact that he is a Keystone Oaks grad and most of his family was able to attend on Friday, as well as the emotional experience of having his mom right there. “It was overwhelming. It was emotional… I’m just glad I could end it on a high note. It really means a lot to have all these family and friends here. It’s incredible. There’s nothing like being in your home city. These kids that are from the WPIAL, they don’t know what they’re missing when they don’t go to Pitt.”
Other Panthers in the win column included Kellan Stout, who as shown nice improvement since returning to the lineup. Additionally, Robert Lee (8-3), Taleb Rahmani (fall), and Gregg Harvey (11-3) all notched quality wins. Bentley and Wentzel, who both fell in overtime, also continue to demonstrate more aggressive and technically sound wrestling, peaking at the perfect time.
Gavin weighs in on his seniors
“All three of them have been nice to have in this transition of the new coaching staff; we’re very grateful to have those guys. They lead a lot in their own way. Dom, the way he trains and wrestles, it’s 100% every day. To have that in the room raises the intensity level. And after he competes our guys get excited, our fans get excited. Ryan Solomon’s the same way, he competes hard, he’s running back to the center every time. Nick is a very intelligent kid and he loves the sport of wrestling and trying to learn.”
“Finishing our attacks when we get our opportunities. Each time you get the leg it has to be like the match winning takedown.” Keith Gavin wants his team to focus on the details, the finer aspects of wrestling heading into the conference tournament. Forys’ approach is more mental: “Staying composed and not wrestling names. Just going out there and wrestling whoever’s in front of me. I know that I can beat the best guys in the country. I know the coaches have prepared me. Just staying focused and keeping my composure; not letting little things get in my head. If I do that I know that I can pull it out this year.” Along the same lines, Zanetta is excited to finally get back in a tournament setting, an area he has been able to excel in his entire career. And while he mentioned the ending will be “bitter sweet,” he also plans to leave it all out there: “you can’t have any regrets.”
All three of this class’s seniors have made countless memories over the past four to five years. When asked to recall his favorite of these experiences, Ryan Solomon had to stop and think. He cited the Oklahoma match this year, where he pinned his opponent to give Pitt the team win, as well as the Edinboro match from 2016, in which Solomon pinned then 11th ranked Billy Miller to clinch the win for the team as well. As mentioned before, Nick Zanetta recalled Pitt’s last match in the Peterson Event Center versus arch rival Penn State. Although acknowledging winning ACCs was a highlight, Dom Forys however, insisted he is “still in the process of making my best memory.”
Although talented and accomplished wrestlers, all three of these gentlemen will be making their living in something other than athletics. Nick Zanetta plans to stay in Pittsburgh and look for a job in supply chain management. Dom Forys has several jobs lined up, one of which is with Amazon in South Carolina. He also noted the importance helping younger wrestlers, wherever he ends up. “Wrestling will always be there. If I move to a different area the first place I’m going to search is a high school I can volunteer at and help kids out and mentor kids. That’s what got me to be able to go to college, and is helping me to get a job. I want to teach kids if they work hard they can get wherever they want to go.” Lastly, Ryan Solomon plans to pursue a career in law enforcement, hopefully with the Pennsylvania State Police.
Pitt traveled to Bethlehem, PA on Sunday to take on the No. 9 Lehigh Mountain Hawks; the Panthers fell 25-10. “The first five matches was some of the best wrestling we have done all year,” Head coach Keith Gavin assessed after the match. Indeed, LJ Bentley only lost 1-0 to returning National Champion Darian Cruz (last year Cruz beat Bentley 10-2). At 133, No. 11 Dom Forys and No. 7 Scotty Parker slugged it out in an extremely physical match, with Forys coming away with the 7-6 decision over the returning All American. Up next, Nick Zanetta upset 11th ranked Luke Karam with a late takedown and turn for the 6-1 win. Robert Lee dropped a 4-3 decision at 149 with a very questionable potentially dangerous call that cost Lee a takedown. However, after Taleb Rahmani’s major at 157, Pitt would lose the next five matches. While none of those five were unexpected on paper, Jake Wentzel facing 19th ranked Gordon Wolf, Kellan Stout taking on unranked Chris Weiler, and Ryan Solomon matching up against 12th ranked Jordan Wood (a ranking he used to possess), all seemed like winnable matches. “I thought we could’ve won 197 and heavyweight, but we let those two matches slip away. Overall, we have made some good progress since the beginning of the year, and now we need to keep improving and have a good postseason.”
Note: Nathan Russell is the fourth member of the class of 2018 and will be missed as well.