A wrestler graduating college with as many World titles as NCAA titles is actually very common. It’s just usually zero. Kyle Snyder finishing his Buckeye career with three of each makes him by far the most prolifically accomplished senior level wrestler while still a student-athlete in history. He also joins Tom Brands and Mark Schultz as the only Americans to win three NCAAs, an Olympic, and World title. It may be a very long time until the likes of this giant come around again. Or, it may not.
Spencer Lee, a Franklin Regional grad, achieved a similar feat in high school: He graduated with three World championships and three State championships. Only time will tell how he fares on the senior level, but he’s already out-pacing Snyder for NCAA titles, and based on his domination of the 125 field, as well as his significant freestyle experience, Lee may be on the fast track to the record books. He already has two losses, so he cannot accomplish what Cael Sanderson did. But four years from now, those two losses may seem like small potatoes when we compare them to his future achievements.
The WPIAL had three national champions. So did Young Guns, the premier high school wrestling club in the Pittsburgh area. In addition to Lee, Kittanning grad Jason Nolf and Central Catholic grad Vincenzo Joseph were crowned with gold this past weekend in Cleveland, each their second. While Lee traveled west to wrestle for Iowa, Nolf and Joseph drove up the road to State College, and have been two of the main pieces in Penn State’s success.
One of the most exciting matches of the finals was 141: freshman Yianni Diakomihalis versus senior Bryce Meredith. A back and forth affair ended with Diakomihalis on top 7-4. I’m convinced he only won because the match was seven minutes long. If it were eight minutes, Meredith would have prevailed. However, if it were nine, Diakomihalis; ten, Meredith and so on. It was very entertaining.
At 149 Zain Retherford won his third straight title, ending his career on a 94 match winning streak. How awesome is that? But of course, he wrestles for Penn State, so there had to be a little controversy.
Ronnie Perry, a senior for Lock Haven, shocked the wrestling world by upsetting Iowa Hawkeye and four time All American Brandon Sorensen in the second round. After working his way through rest of the bracket, which included defeating NCAA champion Jason Tsirtsis, no one thought he could beat Retherford. In the second period, it appeared as though Perry scored a takedown, but “two” was not called. With Lock Haven out of challenges, all his coaches (and the crowd) could do was plead the ref to do an official’s review. All tournament, the referees took matters into their own hands when something was not clear. But on the biggest stage, with an unthinkable upset potentially brewing, this official did not. It’s instances like this with Penn State that make people say ridiculous things.
The State of Pitt
Pitt has gone three years without an All American since Tyler Wilps lost in the NCAA finals in 2015 to Matt Brown.
Even worse, the recruiting class that was supposed to deliver, did not. Ranked second the in the country, the class of 2013 was a huge letdown. The highest place Nick Zanetta, Mikey Racciato, Edgar Bright, Cody Wiercioch, or Ryan Solomon finished was 12th (Solomon in 2017). Consider that Racciato, Wiercioch, and Bright did not even finish four years with the team, and you have what we have now. An average program that underwent comprehensive leadership changes, and disappointment at nationals three years in a row. It appears Pitt has started to turn the corner under Keith Gavin, but more concrete results are necessary. With Pitt’s geographical location (see WPIAL chart below), a higher standard is both necessary and achievable.
Middle of the Pack
Teams that finished behind Pitt: The Citadel, SIUE, Ohio, Michigan State, Gardner-Webb, Cleveland State, Buffalo, Air Force, Fresno State, Cal Poly, Binghamton, Oklahoma, Harvard, George Mason, F&M, Campbell, American, Indiana, Old Dominion, Clarion, Bucknell, Brown, Appalachian State, Northern Illinois, Chattanooga, Rider, North Dakota State, Iowa State, Utah Valley, Columbia, Army, Penn, Eastern Michigan, Northern Colorado, Central Michigan, Navy, Edinboro, Drexel, Stanford, CSU Bakersfield, Virginia (tie)
Teams that finished ahead of Pitt: West Virginia, Purdue, Hofstra, Maryland, Princeton, Northwestern, Northern Iowa, Kent State, Duke, Oregon State, North Carolina, Wyoming, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Lock Haven, Lehigh, Oklahoma State, Illinois, South Dakota State, Rutgers, Arizona State, Nebraska, Virginia Tech, Cornell, Missouri, NC State, Michigan, Iowa, Ohio State, Penn State
Penn State vs Ohio State vs PA vs WPIAL
Pennsylvania sent 53 natives to nationals. Ohio sent 30; Illinois 27. The WPIAL impressed with 18. Taking the top PA and WPIAL native at each bracket, without removing them from other teams, let’s look at how a team would have done if they only recruited locally.
Team Pennsylvania would have finished in third outright; WPIAL would have tied with Iowa for third.
Now, let’s make it interesting. If your lineup going into the tournament was Nick Piccininni, John Erneste, Dean Heil, Ke-Shawn Hayes, Joey Lavallee, Chad Walsh, Taylor Lujan, Pete Renda, Frank Mattiace, and Nathan Butler, you would have been considered one of the favorites to win, let alone place highly.
You would have finished with no All Americans, and only 32.5 team points, good for 17th place. Not terrible, but a vast underachievement. More testament to how tough this tournament is.
Graduating ranked seniors
To get an idea on how some weight classes might open up next year, let’s take a look at who’s leaving (these are based on the last set of rankings on FloWrestling, not the NCAA tournament):
125: Darian Cruz, Nathan Tomasello, Luke Welch. 133: Dom Forys, Ali Naser. 141: Bryce Meredith, Kevin Jack, Dean Heil, Tyler Smith, Nick Zanetta. 149: Zain Retherford, Brandon Sorensen, Troy Heilmann, Colton McCrystal, Jason Tsirtsis, Beau Donahue, Ronnie Perry, Eleazar DeLuca, Malik Amine. 157: Joey Lavallee, Archie Colgan, Clayton Ream, Andrew Crone, Colin Heffernan, Luke Zilverberg, Markus Scheidel, Coleman Hammond. 165: Isaiah Martinez, Richie Lewis, Chad Walsh, Nick Wanzek, Jonathan Schleifer, May Bethea. 174: Bo Jordan, Jadaen Bernstein, Keaton Subjeck, David Kocer, Christian Brucki, Ethan Ramos, Yoanse Mejias. 184: Domenic Abounader, Pete Renda, Ricky Robertson, Bryce Carr, Steven Schneider, Jordan Ellingwood. 197: Willie Miklus*, Jared Haught, Michael Macchiavello, Frank Mattiace, Nathan Rotert, Kevin Beazley, Stephen Loiseau, Jeric Kasunic, Scottie Boykin, Daniel Chaid, Jake Smith, Matt Williams. 285: Kyle Snyder, Adam Coon, Jacob Kasper, Amar Dhesi, Nathan Butler, Michael Boykin, Mike Hughes, Garrett Ryan
Was great to see Darian Cruz, Sorensen, and Bo Jordan get standing ovations Saturday morning. Lots of respect in the wrestling community.
Nick Piccininni has been brutalized by Iowa wrestlers two years in a row.
There are some that will use the Seth Gross-Stevan Micic final at 133 to justify making takedowns worth three points. And there are some that will use it to stress being proficient in all three positions. Either way, Micic was clearly better on his feet while Gross was dominant on the mat.
Jason Nolf completely reinventing himself after his knee injury and dominating without dominating (if you know what I mean), was really cool to watch. Must have a good coach.
Anyone catch Nolf jumping off the stage and doing a 360 after winning? Almost as if to say “My knee’s fine.”
Taleb Rahmani’s only two losses were to the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds.
Vincenzo Joseph must be unnaturally strong that Isaiah Martinez can’t even get to a leg.
Zahid-Hall scramble was incredible. The epitome of folkstyle.
Depending on who you root for, the Martin-Nickal match went from 0 to 100 or 100 to 0 real quick.
Props to Michael Macchiavello for saying he wanted the match to be decided on a takedown and not go to rideouts. No matter who won.
Kyle Snyder is probably already the fifth best American wrestler of all time behind Smith, Cael, Gable, and Burroughs. How long until he starts climbing that list?
Despite being so early in the offseason, and having no idea who will redshirt, here is an attempt to project Pitt’s lineup next year. I’m going to assume Matthews, Kemerer, Newell, and Crawford redshirt.
125: LJ Bentley
133: Mickey Phillippi
141: KJ Fenstermacher
149: Robert Lee
157: Taleb Rahmani
165: Jake Wentzel
174: Gregg Harvey
184: Nino Bonaccorsi
197: Kellan Stout
285: Cole Rickert
*Miklus was granted a 6th year of eligibility.