Pitt wrestling had an excellent turn around season. By all accounts the Panthers wrestled much better this year, and the numbers prove it. They flipped a 4-11 record to 13-3. This was largely powered by the additions of Micky Phillippi, Nino Bonaccorsi, and Demetrius Thomas to the lineup, as well as drastically improved outcomes from Kellan Stout.
Pitt finished tied for third in the regular season ACC standings, but placed 4th in the tournament. Phillippi and Thomas won individual ACC titles.
The team was streaky. They started by winning eight straight, then lost three straight, and concluded by winning five straight.
They notched high quality dual wins over Oklahoma, North Dakota State, and North Carolina State. Their three losses were to Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina, the eventual 3rd, 11th, and 19th team placers at NCAAs, respectively.
Robert Lee and Jake Wentzel were lost to injuries late in the season, and were replaced by Dallas Bulsak and Tommy O’Brien. Both went 0-2 at ACCs.
They shutout South Dakota State, and in their duals with West Virginia, Bucknell, Clarion, and Gardner-Webb, only lost one match each time. But despite all the regular season success, some familiar trends revealed their ugly heads at the NCAA Championships, which Pitt hosted.
For the third straight year, Pitt finished with either 9.5 or 10.5 points, and placed between 31st-34th. For the fourth straight year, the Panthers had zero All Americans.
That’s the killer. The only way to build a program – the only way to recruit – is to put wrestlers on the podium for the whole world to see on Saturday night. Pitt hasn’t done that since Tyler Wilps in 2015. If they want to start getting the best WPIAL and Pennsylvania wrestlers, this is the one thing that needs to change.
Where Did Pitt Finish at NCAAs
34th, tied with Wyoming
Worse than Pitt
VMI, The Citadel, South Dakota State, Gardner-Webb, Franklin & Marshall, Edinboro, Clarion, Bloomsburg, SIU Edwardsville, Northern Illinois, Kent State, Drexel, Columbia, Chattanooga, Air Force, Ohio, Indiana, Buffalo, Northern Colorado, George Mason, Bucknell, American, Cal Poly, Appalachian State, Penn, Campbell, Brown, West Virginia, CSU Bakersfield, Binghamton, Stanford, North Dakota State, Rider, Navy, Army
Michigan State, Old Dominion, Utah Valley, Purdue, Fresno State, Central Michigan, Maryland, Illinois, Oklahoma, Duke, Virginia, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Oregon State, North Carolina, Lock Haven, NC State, Iowa State, Princeton, Northern Iowa, Lehigh, Arizona State, Virginia Tech, Nebraska, Rutgers, Minnesota, Cornell, Missouri, Michigan, Iowa, Oklahoma State, Ohio State, Penn State
Blood Round Losses
For any true Pitt fan, watching Micky, Taleb, and Nino lose their blood round matches Friday night at PPG Paints Arena was a devastating, but familiar feeling. In fact, Pitt wrestlers are a combined 1-15 in their last sixteen round of 12 appearances, which has to be the worst mark in Division 1. Why is this? Is it the Pitt curse? Certainly it isn’t any specific coach, as this streak spans Stottlemyer, Peters, and Gavin. There probably isn’t just one reason, but whatever it is, needs to stop. Let’s look at the last decade plus one year, as no one lost in ’09. Tyler Wilps has the lone win.
2008: Drew Headlee lost to Nick Gallick (Iowa State) 9-3, Matt Kocher lost to Gregor Gillespie (Edinboro) 1-0
2011: Zac Thomusseit lost to Sonny Yohn (Minnesota) 2-0
2012: Anthony Zanetta lost to Steve Bonanno (Hofstra) 10-4 (OT), Shelton Mack lost to Chris Dardanes (Minnesota) 6-1
2013: Max Thomusseit lost to Mike Larson (Missouri) 4-2
2014: Anthony Zanetta lost to Earl Hall (Iowa State) 8-5, Tyler Wilps beat Tanner Weatherman (Iowa State) 3-2, Max Thomusseit lost to Kevin Steinhaus (Minnesota) 6-5, Nick Bonaccorsi lost to Conner Hartmann (Duke) 4-0
2015: Max Thomusseit lost to Hayden Zillmer (North Dakota State) 7-1
2016: Dom Forys lost to Earl Hall (Iowa State) 13-7
2017: Ryan Solomon lost to Nick Nevills (Penn State) 2-0
2019: Micky Phillippi lost to Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State) 4-3, Taleb Rahmani lost to Christian Pagdilao (Arizona State) 13-7, Nino Bonaccorsi lost to Dakota Geer (Oklahoma State) 6-0
If you needed more proof of how difficult it is to place at NCAAs before reading this article, the above list should satisfy even the staunchest cynic. Take 133 in 2012 for example. In addition to Shelton, the other three “losers” in the blood round were Zach Horan, Joe Colon, and AJ Schopp. Case closed.
To make matters even more frustrating for the Panther faithful, is how many wins over All Americans Pitt wrestlers have. Anthony Zanetta, Dom Forys, and Max Thomusseit had countless wins over top guys, including NCAA champs. Just this year Micky had wins over Luke Pletcher, Daton Fix, Tariq Wilson, and Ethan Lizak. Nino beat Geer twice last year, plus recently beat Emery Parker and Chip Ness who wrestled each other for 5th at NCAAs. If you indulge yourself and peer through some historical brackets you will find many more such results.
It feels like a bubble that needs to burst. It may just happen next year.
There is Optimism
Speaking of, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic moving forward. Phillippi and Bonaccorsi have three years of eligibility left. Rahmani, Wentzel, Gregg Harvey, Stout, and Meech return. Graduating LJ Bentley and Robert Lee have replacements in waiting with Cole Matthews and Luke Kemerer. Ryan Sullivan, Colt Camacho, Jared McGill, and Austin Cooley arrive on campus in a few short months.
The coaching staff has shown ability to recruit, make mid-season adjustments, and win big matches. It just all needs to come together, and there is sufficient evidence to believe it will happen sooner than later.