Pitt went 3-2 in the opening round of the 2019 Division I NCAA Wrestling Championships. PPG Paints Arena was packed and the atmosphere loud. There are 53 wrestlers from Pennsylvania competing, with 21 from the WPIAL. Relishing a chance to cheer for their hometown favorites, the Pittsburgh locals showed up in force. One such competitor is Micky Phillippi, Pitt’s 133 pounder.
Micky won his first match 4-2 over Gary Joint of Fresno State. Although not dominant on the score board, Joint didn’t come particularly close to scoring. Micky got a nice roar from the crowd, and will need to be just as solid tonight vs Austin Gomez, the No. 13 seed from Iowa State.
Taleb Rahmani faced Justin Thomas in his first match. Taleb beat the Sooner 3-2 at the dual match, but came up short this time around. It was a scoreless first, and the two traded escapes in the second and third. This brought it to 1-1 with 12 seconds left heading for overtime. Taleb took an ill-advised shot, failed to clear the tie, and got cradled to his back. He lost 7-1 and will have Hunter Willits of Oregon State in the consolations this evening.
— NCAA Wrestling (@ncaawrestling) March 21, 2019
At 184, Nino used several takedowns, reversals, and riding time to take out Will Sumner 11-4. Nino looked dominant over the Utah Valley wrestler, and perhaps more importantly, Emery Parker, Nino’s next round matchup, did not. Parker beat Will Schany of Virginia 5-2 in his first match; Nino beat Schany 13-2 at the dual. Parker is the No. 4 seed, and if Nino can take him out, will have a significantly easier path to All American.
“It felt awesome… I didn’t really know what to expect,” Nino admitted. He has a ton of family here, and was excited to get out there under the lights.
Although he has been looking forward to today, he didn’t scout his opponents or study his bracket too meticulously.
“I don’t [know much about Parker]. He was in my Midlands bracket last year when I was redshirting. I saw he had a good year, but I wasn’t really paying attention where I was in the bracket. I wanted to get that match done with. I’m going to go out and wrestle how I always do.”
Pitt continued alternating wins and losses, as Kellan Stout fell in his first match to Tom Sleigh, an ACC foe from Virginia Tech, 2-1. Sleigh escaped in the second, and rode Kellan until about 15 seconds left in the bout. Kellan was able to get out, but came up short for the winning takedown. Sleigh’s riding time point was the difference. Kellan will face Anthony McLaughlin from the Air Force Academy tonight in the consolations.
Putting a cap on the session for the Panthers, like he always does, was Demetrius Thomas. “Meech” took out Gannon Gremmel 11-7 with a series of takedowns and riding time. Up next for the NAIA champ is Matt Stencel, a redshirt sophomore at Central Michigan. Thomas pinned Stencel in December at the Cliff Keen Invitational.
“I stuck with my technique, the things I’m comfortable with, stayed the course and came up with the win.” Thomas said he noticed more noise than a typical match, but the stage didn’t really affect him. He specified the main reason for his poise and confidence as his identity with Christ, which makes everything else in his life secondary.
In terms of beating Stencel again, Thomas needs to do “what I’ve been doing all year… make sure I do my best to wrestle my match and not his. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do normally.”
Pitt currently sits in 33rd as a team, with Penn State, Ohio State, and Oklahoma State leading the pack. All five Panthers will wrestle again tonight.