That’s how you start a season. Pitt wrestling manhandled Cal State Bakersfield Saturday night at the Fitzgerald Field House. The Panthers took nine of ten matches, defeating the Roadrunners 32-4.
“[CSUB] fights the whole way and we knew that coming in, so I was excited to see how our guys would do. They kept trying to score points regardless if they were winning or losing, and that’s what we want to see.” Keith Gavin was pretty happy with his team’s performance, especially the noticeable increase in aggressiveness compared to early last year.
Speaking to that, Gavin noted “we have a lot of new faces in the lineup, that’s a big change. Then some of our returning guys have been working on trying to impose their will and making the guy make a mistake instead of waiting for it to happen.”
Brendon Fenton, Micky Phillippi, Dallas Bulsak, Nino Bonaccorsi, and Demetrius Thomas are all fresh faces on this year’s squad.
Bulsak was the only Pitt wrestler to lose and, despite facing CSUB’s best wrestler, came out firing and got the first takedown. “Dallas did a really nice job on that first takedown. It was a great shot and a really good finish… Dallas is good on top too, he put a good ride on him.”
Speaking of riding, the entire team looked solid in the top position, which is something they’ve been practicing. “We’ve been preaching being a ‘three position wrestler,’” Gavin said. He also added some guys like Taleb Rahmani did an especially good job of focusing on actually riding their opponent instead of just looking for the pin.
Micky Phillippi has certainly waited long enough to wrestle his first official college match. After a redshirt season at Virginia and an ineligible season at Pitt, the Derry native finally made his debut. Facing No. 13 Sean Nickell, Phillippi had no issue getting to his shots and largely controlled the mat.
“It felt good though to finally get that one out. The wait was worth it, I feel great,” relayed Micky. In terms of starting the season against a ranked guy, Micky viewed it as just another match. “It’s nice that our schedule is tough, that’s good for the end of the season. No matter who I’m wrestling I look at them the same.”
Regarding the team’s overall performance, Micky shared some of the same thoughts as Gavin. “I think we looked aggressive which is the biggest thing.” Additionally, “we were fun to watch tonight. I want to get a crowd in here. This is hometown for a lot of us; we’re a lot of local guys which is really cool… I think the coaches are doing the right thing here and the program is on the rise.”
Demetrius “Meech” Thomas transferred to Pitt this past summer after placing 1st and 2nd in the NAIA national championships at Williams Baptist University. Although he wrestled division one opponents at tournaments, last weekend he wrestled his first true DI matches at the Clarion Open. He went 5-0 and placed 1st. Saturday night he wrestled his first DI dual match. He teched Jacob Sieder 18-2 in 6:18.
“It just felt normal, like every other match I’ve had in the past. It’s a new level but it’s still another competitor on the mat,” Thomas reflected. So far he’s looked very comfortable in all his matches. He’s been the outright aggressor and been able to use his strength and athleticism not only to score takedowns, but to defend them as well. “I’m willing to tie-up if I have to but I’m more of an ‘in-and-out’ kind of guy, I like to keep space.” That was evident against CSUB for several of Thomas’ scores.
Thomas said he was comfortable at Williams Baptist and was willing to stay there all four years. But after Pitt contacted him about transferring, the prospect of graduating from an acclaimed university was too much to resist. “Specifically to Pitt, for the education. I want to be a physical therapist. The idea of getting a degree from Pitt sounds great knowing they’re number one in physical therapy.* The pursuit of education is what brought me to the next level.”
Brendon Fenton got his first college win 5-3 over Alex Hernandez-Figuera. Phillippi decision Nickell 7-4. LJ Bentley majored Carlos Herrera 12-1 (almost pinned himself at the end, but just held on!). Russell Rohlfing majored Bulsak 17-3. Rahmani majored Wyatt Gerl 18-9. Jake Wentzel beat Jacob Thalin 6-2. Gregg Harvey handled Bryan Battisto 13-8. Bonaccorsi dominated Dom Ducharme 15-5. Kellan Stout blanked Mark Penyacsek 3-0. Thomas destroyed Sieder 18-2.
Five of Ten Starters Are WPIAL Natives
133: Micky Phillippi (Derry)
149: Dallas Bulsak (South Park)
165: Jake Wentzel (South Park)
184: Nino Bonaccorsi (Bethel Park)
197: Kellan Stout (Mt. Lebanon)
Gavin: “Obviously it’s no secret we’re in a really good area here and what’s nice is a lot of the guys on our team know each other… when Micky transferred in here there was no ‘getting comfortable stage,’ he was hitting the ground running. That’s what we tell these kids when we recruit them. A lot of teams talk about having a family type bond and I think we really do have that.”
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*The author of this article is a 2017 alumnus of the Pitt physical therapy program.