Pitt wrestling’s 2018-2019 season got underway Friday with the annual Blue-Gold inter-squad scrimmage. It was a night to determine starters for some weight classes, simulate match day circumstances for others, and to assess strengths and weaknesses for all.
The Clarion Open on Saturday will also serve to help sort out the lineup. “We’re using Clarion as a way to figure out some things too,” explained head coach Keith Gavin. There are some weight classes where multiple wrestlers will assuredly get starting time this year, heavyweight being the most obvious. Although transfer Demetrius Thomas lost his preliminary wrestle-off to Cole Rickert, and Rickert lost to Zach Bruce, Thomas will likely get a shot here and there.
Let’s run through the weight classes.
125: With two true freshman competing, this spot was up for grabs with the winner slated to start and the loser likely to redshirt. With a 2-0 decision, Brendon Fenton earned the starting position over Louis Newell, at least to start the year. Fenton did suffer a minor ankle injury during the bout, but was jogging afterwards signaling he’ll be fine.
133: Micky Phillippi was going to be the starter this year. That much was known. He left no doubt with a clinical technical fall using a variety of takedowns and turns to beat Garrett Reinsfelder 24-7*. Micky looked very slick, and had no issue getting to his ties with the stronger Reinsfelder. That’s a good sign for this year.
141: “141 was a great match on both ends. LJ did well and Cole Matthews showed a lot of toughness,” added Gavin. This was the best match of the night. Senior LJ Bentley faced true freshman and blue chip recruit Cole Matthews. Even before the match, Bentley was probably going to start and Matthews to redshirt. But that didn’t stop them from putting on an exciting bout. LJ controlled the first part of the match, scoring two takedowns; Matthews stopped two others with solid defense. After a Bentley takedown in the third, Matthews hit a “Jonesy”, a reversal-tilt combo that yielded him four points, two each for reversal and nearfall. This tied the score 5-5. A late Bentley escape sealed the match, but both wrestlers showed grit and neither wrestler conceded anything. “[LJ] looked great. For going up two weight classes he was very aggressive, very explosive. And Cole’s a tough kid for just a freshman. That was a good wrestler that he beat.”
149: One of the few classes where the younger wrestler won, 149 allowed another true freshman to showcase his talents. WPIAL product and Hempfield native Luke Kemerer used a dominating second period on top to rack up two full minutes of riding time over senior Robert Lee. That would be all she wrote, and Kemerer came away with the 1-0 decision. Like 141, senior Robert Lee will start with Kemerer to redshirt. This makes the most sense long term, for both individual and team.
157: Taleb Rahmani, fresh after watching Abdulrashid Sadulaev defeat Kyle Snyder by hitting his patented move (just kidding), wrestled a slightly more traditional match Friday. That’s not to say his takedowns weren’t unique or creative, he just didn’t hit any of his go-to funk. Gavin even said they’ve been working with Taleb to “get to his leg attacks more” as that helps to “open up the rest of it.” Taleb has a decent chance of being an All American this year. He will need all his tools to get there.
165: Another class with a pre-determined starter, the Blue-Gold exhibition was a good opportunity to practice “making weight, getting out in front of a crowd, a referee.” Jake Wentzel is now in his third year of college wrestling, and is ranked for the first time in his career. This will be a big year for the two-time PIAA state champion. His performance this year will be a big influence on Pitt’s relative success, good or bad.
174: Down a weight class from last season, Gregg Harvey looked lean and quick. Harvey wrestled 79kg at a freestyle tournament this summer (173.8lbs) so he knew he could make the weight. From personal conversations, I can tell you Gregg followed a strict, healthy diet over the summer, and lost the extra mass the right way. Although it requires extra discipline, managing one’s weight from as far out as possible is the way to do it. We see too often in college wrestling when an athlete is wrestling one weight class too low, and they’re 10 pounds over the day before matches every week. This forces them to just sweat it out, leading to dehydrated malaise and poor performance. With his strong 7-1 decision over David Crawford, Harvey does not appear to be following this path.
184: The debut of Nino Bonaccorsi is one of the biggest causes for excitement among Pitt fans. If three takedowns and a first period pin are a sign of what’s to come, the excitement is substantiated. Nino went 19-4 in his redshirt season a year ago and beat multiple ranked wrestlers in the process. He starts the year No. 18 in the FloWrestling rankings, with plenty of room to move up.
197: Kellan Stout had a bad year in 2018. He’d be the first to tell you about it. After the match Kellan said he’s “a lot stronger” than last season. When Cole Nye transferred to Pitt over the summer, some may have questioned who would be the starter this year, especially as Nye’s record of 9-8 was notably better than Stout’s at 4-16. Any questions were answered emphatically Friday night. After three smooth takedowns, Stout transitioned off the fourth straight to a pinning combo, ending the match at 6:00. Gavin corroborated Stout’s improvements: “We all know Kellan has the ability and the skills. I think a lot of last year he was putting some unnecessary pressure on himself… today, what you saw, is what we see all the time in practice. We need to get that to come out in competition.”
285: Similar to 197, heavyweight had a transfer this summer with Demetrius Thomas coming from Williams Baptist. Again, many thought he would start this year, as in his two seasons of NAIA competition, placed 1st and 2nd in the country. That may not be the case. As mentioned, Thomas lost to Rickert in the preliminary wrestle-off. Rickert then fell 3-1 to Zach Bruce. All three wrestlers are entered to wrestle Saturday at Clarion, with Rickert competing unattached. Make no mistake, Zach Bruce earned the starting job, but that doesn’t mean Thomas won’t get any varsity action.
“I’m excited. We have a very young team and a lot of guys that are good competitors. I think we saw that tonight, even some of them that lost… I’m excited for the team, we have a lot of potential,” Gavin optimistically concluded.
*The final score on the scoreboard and in the box score is wrong. The match ended with Micky scoring 2+2 on a takedown and turn which gave him 24 points. The riding time point gave him 25. But that’s wrong. Riding time only gets added if the match goes the full 7 minutes. In this case it ended with :33 seconds left, thus should not have been added.