PITTSBURGH — The Pitt wrestling team has certainly gotten off to a magical start in the 2018-19 season. After a convincing 34-0 victory over South Dakota State last weekend, the Panthers improved to 8-0 on the season. One key piece to the success of the Panthers season so far has come from redshirt freshman Micky Phillippi.
Phillippi was a three-time Pennsylvania State Wrestling Champion at Derry Area High School and made a one-year stop at Virginia before transferring back home to join head coach Keith Gavin at Pitt in 2017.
Because of his transfer, Phillippi had to sit out the 2017-18 season after already redshirting at Virginia in 2016-17, meaning it had been a while since his last match before the start of this season.
“The transition, it was different,” Phillippi said after practice on Thursday, “There are a lot of nerves that go into it at first just because I mean, the last time I really competed on a team was in high school, so now I am on a college team which is cool, but the nerves are gone now and now I’m having fun out there.”
Phillippi was thrust into action early and often and has competed in every match during the current 2018-19 season. He is a major reason to why the Panthers are off to such a great start and is ranked fourth in the country at the 133-pound weight class. Phillippi credits the instruction he’s received at Pitt under Gavin for his success.
“He’s helped me tremendously, he’s amazing,” Phillippi said. “He’s like a wrestling guru. I feel like I have developed in all three positions a lot more since I got here.”
Phillippi’s development is going to be put to test on Saturday as he’ll face his toughest opponent yet. Daton Fix, a member of the No. 3 Oklahoma State Cowboys comes in as the second-ranked wrestler in the 133-pound weight class. Although it is a highly anticipated match between a pair of top-five ranked wrestlers, Phillippi is looking at it as another normal match.
“I try not to look at my opponents, I try not to worry about it, whenever I went out to Cliff Keen (Las Vegas) this year, every match, I walked out there and thought it didn’t matter what this kid has done before, it was just, I’m going out there and I’m going to get to my ties, score my points and try to win the match,” Micky said on Thursday afternoon. “I try not to put too much pressure on it, but I mean yeah, there is a lot of hype to it and it’s going to be cool for everyone to watch. I’m excited, I find it fun whenever I’m in one of those matches.”
Both Pitt and Oklahoma State enter Saturday with undefeated records. The No. 14 Panthers are the underdogs in many of their different weight class matches, but there is definitely some optimism coming from Phillippi and the rest of the Pitt program as they look to continue their undefeated season.
“They are obviously a higher ranked team,” Phillippi said. “We have to go out there, I mean some people might have to pull off an upset, but I think if we go out there and as Coach Gavin says, out work the guys, there is no reason we can’t (win). This duel can be extremely close, it’s going to be a cool atmosphere for everyone and everyone just has to go out there with confidence no matter what. It doesn’t matter who matter who is stepping across the mat from you, they’re going to bring it all so you need to bring your all.”
Putting Oklahoma State on the Panthers schedule certainly will help them as they progress throughout the rest of the year. They will experience a high level of talent throughout — all of the Cowboys’ starters are nationally ranked — which should help prepare the team for tough ACC matches later on down the schedule.
What would a win against a highly ranked opponent like Oklahoma State mean for a program like Pitt who is only in its second year under Coach Keith Gavin?
“This right here is a good opportunity for us,” Phillippi said. “If we go out there and knock off a team like this, that’s big for the program. We are just going to go out there and compete.”