Pitt wrestling annihilated its way through the Dakotas this weekend, traveling from Fargo to Brookings. The Panthers beat the Bison of North Dakota State 22-11 on Saturday, winning seven of ten, and shutout the Jack Rabbits of South Dakota State 34-0 on Sunday, results any zoologist could have predicted. Mascot jokes aside, Pitt looked extremely dominant against SDSU, getting the first takedown in almost every match, controlling the top position, and demonstrated vastly superior conditioning. Next week against Oklahoma State is going to be a whole different animal though. After all, Cowboys have guns.
“Great team win [Sunday],” said head coach Keith Gavin. “Our guys competed hard up and down the lineup. It was especially good to see Rob Lee get a big win. I’m really proud of his effort.” Pitt is 8-0, its best start since 1976.
The dual against SDSU got off to a great start, with true freshman Brendon Fenton earning his first college win via bonus points. He used two takedowns and two sets of nearfalls to win 14-0, and looked much better than the day before. Micky Phillippi kept the train rolling with another major. At the beginning of the year, it looked like Micky was going to have Seth Gross and Daton Fix on back-to-back weekends. Fix looks like a go for next week, but Gross hasn’t wrestled all year. It’s always a shame when the returning NCAA champ is hurt, but especially when you don’t get a chance to test yourself against the best. Of note, Daton Fix beat Nick Suriano of Rutgers 2-1 in OT on a penalty point on Sunday, just before the Pitt match*. Suriano beat Micky 11-3 in the CKLV finals in December.
LJ Bentley captured his second win of the weekend, after trading several reversals and getting a late takedown. Robert Lee was the main story on Sunday though, and he gets the honorary OW. To my knowledge, Rob has never beaten a ranked wrestler in his career, and if he has it hasn’t happened often. Facing off against No. 17 Henry Pohlmeyer, who was fresh off an upset over No. 9 Max Thomsen, “The General” (re-read his name if you don’t get that) had his work cut out. Rob wrestled the best match in his college career. He was offensive, aggressive, and controlled the mat. He even got a turn. Coach Gavin, among several Pitt wrestlers repeatedly say how good Lee is in the room. Maybe, with only two months left in his senior year, the best is yet to come for Rob Lee.
Taleb, who wrestled very poorly Saturday (see below), looked much better on Sunday, and came close to pinning Colten Carlson several times. He even hit some of his original moves, for better or worse. Like Taleb, Jake Wentzel did a nice job rebounding from Saturday’s loss, notching a hard fought 3-1 win with riding time.
Both Gregg Harvey and Nino Bonaccorsi used a relentless set of leg attacks to down their respective rivals, although Harvey by a wider margin. The gap in conditioning was on full display at 174, and Harvey used that to his advantage, pouring it on in the third for a 13-5 major. Nino gave up a takedown with three seconds left to win 7-6, but the match really wasn’t that close.
The first five minutes of Kellan Stout’s match at 197 were an exact repeat of NDSU. Scoreless first, rideout in the second. This time though, after escaping in the third, Kellan was able to get a takedown near the end, bringing the final score to 5-2.
And lastly of course, Meech Thomas went to work, completely handling Blake Wolters with his strength and prowess from the neutral position. Thomas is also starting to look better on top, which could be huge come March.
Although not quite as lopsided as SDSU, Pitt won seven matches against NDSU, and doubled them up on the team score.
“There were a lot of tight matches in [Saturday’s] dual and we had to get tough,” evaluated Gavin. “It’s good to get these hard-fought wins on the road.”
Pitt was boosted to its win over NDSU by several key matches. With Brendon Fenton getting teched to start, Taleb Rahmani and Jake Wentzel losing back to back, and Harvey’s outcome uncertain until the last few seconds, there were several instances where it looked like – at least maybe – NDSU had a chance to win. Seniors LJ Bentley and Robert Lee both won toss-up matches at 141 and 149, and Micky Phillippi defeated another ranked opponent at 133.
With Pitt’s three big men winning out, Harvey’s back-and-forth match was ultimately inconsequential for the team score, but at the time seemed important. Gregg did a fine job of staying composed, especially with the questionable officiating and late scoring, to come out ahead 7-5. Nino Bonaccorsi, Kellan Stout, and Demetrius Thomas outscored their opponents a combined 28-10, leaving no doubt. Of note, Kellan lost to Cordell Eaton 8-3 last year. He beat him 2-0 on Saturday with his patented second period rideout.
There were a few times during Saturday’s dual where Pitt looked, for lack of a better word, off. Fenton’s feckless shot attempts in the third period were just that. He needs to show better effort at preventing bonus points. LJ was wrestling a freshman with a losing record, and after the first, was in a good position to get the major. He only won 7-5, and after getting taken down late, almost got turned as well. Rahmani looked flat his entire match; the worst he has all year. Armando Sciullo, board member of the Pittsburgh Wrestling Club, tweeted Taleb is recovering from the flu, which could explain his malaise. Wentzel, who’s been ranked between 18-25 all season depending on which service you use, had a good opportunity to beat current No. 20 Andrew Fogarty. It’s not that Jake wrestled poorly, just that he lost a good opportunity for a ranked win against a comparable opponent.
On the contrary, there were several bouts that Pitt dominated. Micky completely controlled No. 17 Cam Sykora, despite a 2-0 score. Nino and Meech overwhelmed with their wide array of takedown abilities. Kellan used his skills on top to get revenge. Overall, especially with Taleb getting upset, it was a good team win.
* The Fix-Suriano match was a total disaster. When the wrestling community and media shamelessly and relentlessly promote an event, it needs to live up to the hype. When the No. 6 and No. 2 wrestlers in the country, both favorites to win NCAAs square off, it needs to be entertaining. Especially when 8,000 people show up for the dual, and thousands more tune in online.
Fix-Suriano was a total embarrassment:
1. No takedowns
2. Extremely defensive
3. Disgraceful officiating
4. Ill-advised challenges
5. 30 minute review
6. Double standard on locked hands (Wilps)
7. Ends on a penalty point
Exactly what the fans wanted !!
— Stephen Patrick (@stevepatrickPT) January 13, 2019