The heavyweight winning his match with the dual on the line: a Pitt wrestling staple in beating good teams. Meech Thomas – joining Zach Sheaffer, Ryan Tomei, Zac Thomusseit, Matt Wilps, PJ Tasser, and Ryan Solomon – became the latest in a line of successful Pitt big men to do so Saturday afternoon. With the team score 19-18 Northern Iowa, Meech took out Carter Isley 9-3 to give Pitt the 21-19 win.
“To be honest with you, I was super hype. Going in, in my mind, I treated it like any other match… once the crowd got into it at the end it really set in, like oh snap, I did it for the team. It was awesome.”
Meech noted he has never been in that situation before, so he was really excited for a chance to clinch it for the team. His coach was pleased as well: “Meech is a beast. He has a great motor, he loves to compete, and he’s very mentally strong.” Mental strength is obviously important in that circumstance, so it’s not surprising Keith Gavin is happy with his heavyweight. “We got a good one.”
The score was 2-2 going into the third period. A tied match, with the dual on the line, after five minutes of physical wrestling. If there were any gaps in either athlete’s conditioning, they would be exposed here. “I try to push the pace because a lot of heavyweights are big but they don’t have that gas tank, and that’s something I work on in the room. I always try to push myself until I break. I have great training partners. They always push me, a lot of times in the room they break me, I always try to push that limit.” Thomas got two takedowns in the third. His conditioning paid off.
After Nino Bonaccorsi lost at 184 to tenth ranked senior Drew Foster, Pitt had to win both remaining matches, so Kellan Stout deserves just as much credit as Thomas. “That’s a lot of pressure on those guys, and they both stepped up big. Kellan is getting more and more comfortable out there, and he has certain positions that he’s going to dominate guys from, and he’s learning that,” Gavin praised.
Kellan was prepared for the challenge, and rose to the occasion. “It was a good opportunity, especially with [No. 4 Holschlag] out of the lineup, to wrestle a guy I normally wouldn’t wrestle for the good of the team. I tried to put up some points, dominate the match, shift the momentum a bit going into Meech’s match.” He did just that.
Stout looks confident and assertive. Perhaps this is from his practice habits with Nino. “We’ve been training hard for a long time. Nino’s my main partner, we go at it pretty hard. We have clashing styles too, so we both have to get creative with scoring and defending.” Nino is more aggressive, while Stout more methodical.
Sometimes being too aggressive can be costly though.
After Nino got a takedown in the third period to tie it 6-6, he took another quick shot on the edge, which Foster scored on. It seemed forced. “He has great setups, great fakes, and he needs to continue to use that. In the end there, after he got that takedown, he got caught up in the moment and rushed one. Again, that guy’s a former All American, he’s going to keep wrestling, you’re going to have to take it from him,” Gavin critiqued. With a few adjustments, that’s a match he can win in the future.
Back and Forth
There were several turning points in this match, for both teams. UNI got the pin at 125, but Micky Phillippi got Pitt right back in it. After exchanging pins to start, LJ Bentley put up a tough, hard-fought match against No. 9 Josh Alber, but came up a little short. Then with No. 7 Max Thomsen out, Robert Lee earned a standing ovation from the Fitz crowd after an OT win. Then came the interesting part.
Taleb Rahmani was heavily favored over unranked Patrick Schoenfelder, and looked like he was going to have his way with him. A Schoenfelder near cradle off a Rahmani shot quickly changed the scope of the match, and Rahmani had to fight off his back for what seemed like an eternity. How did he do it? “Just have to have the mindset not to get pinned. You’re not in it for yourself, you’re in it for the team.” Taleb apparently did have the right mindset, because about ten seconds after reversing Schoenfelder, put him in an ‘eye-tooth’ and pinned him. “It didn’t matter I was just on my back… I’m always looking for the kill.”
Pitt had all the momentum now, but was running into the meat of UNI’s lineup, with guys ranked 9th, 9th, and 10th in waiting. UNI took all three, including a major at 174, setting the table for Stout and Thomas.
Although Gregg Harvey lost 9-1, the match was closely contested. Heck, it was 1-0 going to the third, and Harvey came just inches from scoring a takedown off an ankle pick. “Harvey, his whole thing is ‘don’t stop moving’ but it has to be like that on bottom too. He got a slow start off the whistle and the guy got a leg in, that’s a top 10 guy, if you let him get in the position he wants, you’re in trouble.” Gavin knows what his team needs to work on, and like Bonaccorsi, this is a match Harvey can win down the road.
A Concluding Thought
“We had a lot of fight tonight and that was great to see.” Gavin echoed what the entire crowd (a very good crowd) saw on Saturday. An aggressive, focused wrestling team, looking to score from every position and not getting rattled from adversity. This is an entirely different product than at the beginning of last year, and considering how much the team improved over the course of the season, by the time March rolls around, Pitt could be in a position to do some damage.
The Panthers are now 2-0, and resume action November 30th in Las Vegas at the Cliff Keen Invitational.