Another college wrestling season is right around the corner. But before we look ahead to that – with all its hopes, dreams, and devastations – let’s look back at the last decade, specifically analyzing Pitt.
I consider the “modern era” of Pitt wrestling to start in 2010 for several reasons. One, it’s a nice round year. Two, that was the start of Pitt’s run. Anthony Zanetta was a freshman and won the EWL title at 125 pounds. Tyler Nauman, Zac Thomusseit, and Matt Wilps were all in the lineup, all future All Americans. Pitt won their first ever Conference Championship that year. Plus, it works out nicely that ten seasons have passed since then.
Here’s a quick look at those ten years with dual record, conference tournament finish, and NCAA tournament team finish. Note, after 2013 Pitt left the EWL to join the ACC. From 2014 on all conference results are in the ACC. Please also note Rande Stottlemyer was the head coach for all years prior to 2014, Jason Peters from 2014-2016, Matt Kocher and Drew Headlee were co-head coaches in 2017, and Keith Gavin from 2018 on.
Except for 2015 and 2018 Pitt had a winning dual record, and was usually pretty good in this regard. From 2010-2015, never finishing worse than second in the conference is to be lauded as well. However, two last place finishes in the ACC recently still leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
Despite the EWL and ACC team titles and some spectacular dual records, the disappointing NCAA finishes are what really stand out. Nothing better than 15th and half the seasons in the 30s.
Pitt only had seven All Americans this decade, and none since Tyler Wilps’ incredible run to the finals in 2015. Tyler Nauman, Matt Wilps, and Tyler Wilps are each two-time All Americans, and Zac Thomusseit placed 5th as a senior in 2013. To compound matters, Pitt’s record in the Blood Round in this time frame is 2-13, with the only wins being Zac Thomusseit in 2013 and Tyler Wilps in 2014.
On two separate occasions, in 2014 and 2019 Pitt wrestlers lost three matches in the Blood Round. The first instance involved Anthony Zanetta, Max Thomusseit, and Nick Bonaccorsi. The more recent group included Micky Phillippi, Taleb Rahmani, and Nino Bonaccorsi. Max Thomusseit lost in this round three consecutive attempts.
Seldom few times in my life have I had my heart ripped out from a sporting result. One was when Anthony lost in the Blood Round, and another was ~ 30 minutes later when Max and Nick lost.
I was watching from my frat house and committed first degree murder on several inanimate objects. I was (am) friends with all and my brother was on the team at the time. It was devastating for all the good Pitt fans out there not seeing their favorite wrestlers on the podium, and of course for those three not seeing the fruits of their labor pay off in a grand way.
At least in 2014 Pitt had four wrestlers make it to the Blood Round. That’s more than they had the next four years combined. That’s a bit scary, but there are reasons for optimism.
Of the three crusaders who made it that far last season, all are back, and two were only freshmen.
I devised a scoring system to analyze NCAA performances as a team without just looking at final team placing or team score. It does not include bonus points nor exponentially reward higher placements. Quite simply, point values were assigned to an individual’s performance equal to his placement.
For example, 5th place = 5 points, the value for a loss in the round of 12 was determined by comparing the four individuals who also lost in that round to their victor’s final placement and carried out to be 9-12 (in other words, which of the Blood Round losers lost to the better opponent), a loss in the Round of 16 = 16, a loss in the round of 24 = 24, a loss in the first round = 32, not qualifying = 34. Making non-qualifiers 34 is the only way to standardize all non-qualifiers (there are 33 in each weight). If all ten entrants won NCAA titles, the score would be 10, if no one qualified 340. Like golf, lower is better.
Pitt’s best score using this system is 210 in 2014 which is not their best finish according to official NCAA standings but is the year they beat Oklahoma State in the dual, and arguably the best team of this decade.
Here’s how it broke down:
2016 was the worst year at 299:
This is a graph of Pitt’s last ten NCAA performances using my metric (the 2020 data is my projection for all charts).
The trend line since 2016 is sloping down, statistical evidence the program is heading in the right direction.
For comparison, here’s a graph of their actual NCAA finish.
The biggest improvement year-over-year at a single weight class using my system was 27 points. This happened twice. The first was from 2011-2012 at 149 when Tyler Nauman (5) replaced Dane Johnson (32). The other was from 2012-2013 at heavyweight with Zac Thomusseit and PJ Tasser replicating the same numbers. The biggest drop-off was from 2015-2016 at 174 when Tyler Wilps (2) was swapped for TeShan Campbell (32).
This is a graph of the difference between each year. For reference, -2 in 2011 means that team’s total was two spots worse than 2010. Conversely, 25 in 2012 means that team improved by that amount over its predecessor.
Again, heading in the right direction.
If you take Pitt’s best finish in each weight class you get a pretty good team. From 125 to 285: Anthony Zanetta (12), Shelton Mack (9), Tyler Nauman (5), Tyler Nauman (5), Taleb Rahmani (11), TeShan Campbell (16), Tyler Wilps (2), Max Thomusseit (9), Matt Wilps (3), Zac Thomusseit (5). Add those up and you get 77.
For your viewing pleasure I compiled all recruiting classes going back to high school graduates of 2009 (freshman for the 2010 season). I included all starters, highly touted recruits, and guys who represented Pitt at a conference tournament. I obviously did not include all walk-ons, and they are generally organized by weight.
T Wilps Robbed
No, this is not a great memory per say. But his run to the finals was. He took out No. 1 seed Robert Kokesh (Nebraska) and No. 12 seed Kyle Crutchmer (Oklahoma State) to make it. We don’t need to rehash the Matt Brown match. A personal story if I may…
I was at my physical therapy school formal at River’s Casino watching on my phone with a Penn State wrestling alumnus who shall remain nameless. The ESPN feed was lagging and during the third period skipped ahead with Tyler on top and leading all of a sudden. My heart was racing. We rewound it to watch the takedown. As the clock slowly crept towards 0:00, it happened.
I’ve known Tyler since high school and we wrestled at the same club. That was an atrocity.
What a cool thing it has been over this decade to witness all the sets of brothers come through the program. PJ and Donnie Tasser, Anthony and Nick Zanetta, Max and Zac Thomusseit, Matt, Tyler, and Noah Wilps, Nick and Nino Bonaccorsi.
2014 had a Zanetta, Wilps, Thomusseit, Bonaccorsi, and Tasser in the starting lineup with Nick Z redshirting.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that not only have these guys been Pitt’s best performers for the most part, but also the team leaders on and off the mat. Something about growing up in a wrestling household…
ACC Dual Championship
After leaving the EWL on a three year title streak, Pitt entered the ACC as virtual equals with Virginia Tech. Pitt took the dual, Va Tech took the conference tournament. Pitt crushed the other four schools that year to win the ACC regular season Dual Championship, the University’s first team championship in the new conference.
First Conference Championship
In 2010 Pitt won its first ever EWL Dual Championship beating Edinboro 21-13 at home on Senior Night. Here’s what head coach Rande Stottlemyer had to say.
“This win was satisfying, certainly. But I’m the same person whether we win or we lose. It was just neat for our guys. We had such a great atmosphere and we are putting a good product out. I was told by Steve Pederson and Chancellor Nordenberg that they are lighting the Victory Lights on the Cathedral tonight and I am really touched by that.
“We have been close so many times so it was nice to get this one,” Stottlemyer continued. “We really out-wrestled them tonight though. We were aggressive and went after them. I have to give credit to our lead-off guy (Anthony Zanetta). He went up against one of the top guys in the country and it wasn’t that close. He just creates momentum for this team every time he steps on the mat.”
Pitt finished second in the EWL tournament that year. In 2011 and 2012 the Panthers won both the Dual and Tournament titles, in 2013 just the Tournament after a mishap in the Bloomsburg Dual. Those were certainly some exciting years in the Fitzgerald Field House.
2013 Lehigh Dual
I consulted my brother Matt on his best memories and he suggested this particular dual. The team stopped in Bethlehem, PA for a clash with the Mountain Hawks on their way to the Keystone Classic.
Anthony Zanetta got things started edging out future NCAA Champ Darian Cruz. Pitt lost the next five bouts.
Mason Beckman took down Shelton Mack in the infamous double-stall match; if memory serves there were three in the first period. Laike Gardner beat Edgar Bright after being down big, Mitch Minotti beat Mikey Racciatio in a district 11 battle, Joey Napoli earned a decision over Cole Sheptock, and Brian Brill slipped past Geno Morelli.
That set up the comeback.
At 174 Tyler Wilps did what he did best and notched a solid win over a good guy in Elliot Riddick. Max Thomusseit majored Zach Diekel. This brought the team score to 15-10 Lehigh.
Nick Bonaccorsi beat John Bolich 3-1 in OT (classic). Then, Mr. Clutch himself PJ Tasser took out Doug Vollaro 4-2 in SV2.
It was a classic Pitt 2013-2015 dual where the back half of the lineup was just too good. Whether it was one of the Wilps’s or Thomusseits, Nick Bono, PJ Tasser, or Ryan Solomon, those guys were as dependable as a coach could want with a dual on the line.
2012 EWL Tournament
In addition to defending their team title, Pitt crowned four individual champions including Anthony Zanetta at 125, Tyler Nauman at 149, Ethan Headlee at 174, and Matt Wilps at 197. This was Nauman’s fourth conference title; dual or tournament he never lost an EWL match.
Wilps earned Outstanding Wrestler that tournament after upsetting Edinboro’s Chris Honeycutt in the finals. Honeycutt was 2-0 vs Wilps that year, but the Chartiers Valley grad controlled the pace and won 6-2. Unfortunately Wilps would lose to Honeycutt in the NCAA semi-finals just a few days later 6-3 (OT).
Perhaps the story of the tournament however was PJ Tasser earning an automatic qualification bid to NCAAs at heavyweight weighing 188 pounds. After losing to No. 1 seed Earnest James in the first round, he won three straight matches. This would be PJ’s first trip to NCAAs as a heavyweight after being recruited as a 174 pounder. But at least for the second trip two years later he managed to pack on a few.
The All Americans
Tyler Nauman got 5th twice, both after losing in the semis. That still stings a little. Matt Wilps got 4th and 3rd, both after losing in the semis, both in overtime. Those still sting a little, especially the one with Quentin Wright. Zac Thomusseit got 5th after losing in TB1 to Dom Bradley, the No. 1 seed. Oh, Pitt, why do you do this to us?
Tyler Wilps got 7th and 2nd with his finals appearance already sufficiently discussed by the masses. It still finds its way to Twitter four years later.
That is an incredible group of guys, the Panthers’ finest. With Micky, Cole Matthews, Nino, and some blue-chip incoming recruits, I think the next decade will see more on the podium, and hopefully one or more at the top.
Pitt Shocks No. 5 Oklahoma State
Edgar Bright upset Anthony Collica, Mikey Racciato pinned Josh Kindig, Eric Nutter didn’t get pinned by Alex Dieringer, Max Thomusseit came from behind over Nolan Boyd, and Nick Bono and PJ Tasser closed it out both winning 3-1 in overtime with Pitt down by six team points. Criteria was in the Panthers’ favor and the rest is history.
If a picture is worth a 1000 words, I’ll save you some reading.
Looking forward to the next ten years…