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Returning Qualifiers: Their Path to the Podium

Returning Qualifiers: Their Path to the Podium

Pitt’s five NCAA qualifiers from 2019 are all returning and are all hungry to improve on last season’s finish.

It was an opportunity of a lifetime for the Panthers who made it to NCAAs last year. With the tournament being held just a few minutes down 5th avenue from Pitt’s campus at PPG Paints Arena, the hometown athletes certainly had some advantages over the competition. But, as we are reminded every year, there is no easy draw at the NCAA tournament. There is no easy path, no other wrestler in your bracket that doesn’t want to be an All American just as much as you do. Pitt came up 0 for 5 in terms of producing an All American, with three falling one match short.

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Micky Phillippi was Pitt’s highest seeded wrestler at No. 4. Next came Demetrius Thomas at No. 8, Taleb Rahmani at No. 12, Nino Bonaccorsi at No. 13, and Kellan Stout at No. 23.

Stout went 0-2, Thomas 1-2.

Phillippi, Rahmani, and Bonaccorsi all made it to the “Blood Round,” or the round prior to being an All American. A round so intense, it’s called, well, the Blood Round.

Micky fell 4-3 to Roman Bravo-Young of Penn State, Taleb 13-7 to Christian Pagdilao of Arizona State, and Nino 6-0 to his friend Dakota Geer of Oklahoma State. Brutal.

Pre-season Rankings

An early look at where these five comrades stand can be gathered by the not-so-accurate-but-still-fun-to-look-at pre-season rankings. We’ll go in order of weight and use FloWrestling as the source.

Micky Phillippi: 6th. He is still 7th on the website, but Daton Fix needs to be taken out after John Smith announced he is taking an Olympic redshirt this year. Micky is sandwiched between Austin Gomez (Iowa State) who he beat at NCAAs last year, and RBY who beat him in the Blood Round.

They have Micky ranked in front of Charles Tucker from Cornell who eliminated Micky in the U23 World Team trials finals two matches to none this past summer, as well as Montorie Bridges (Wyoming), an All American in 2018.

Taylor LaMont from Utah Valley also poses a threat, but it looks like Micky is exactly in that 7-9 range. More than likely, he will have to win in the Blood Round against someone like Tucker or LaMont. Despite the high ranking on the surface, it will not be easy.

Taleb Rahmani: 9th. With Jason Nolf, Tyler Berger, and Alec Pantaleo graduating, this weight class has opened up a bit. Unfortunately for Taleb, some really good freshmen are entering the class, as well as several guys changing weights.

David Carr (ISU) and Jacori Teemer (Arizona State) pose the biggest threats as freshmen. Carr won the Junior World title this summer at 74kg and has a long list of achievements prior to college. He is the son of Olympic bronze medalist Nate Carr.

Teemer (along with Carr) was a 5x state champion in high school. He was a Cadet World bronze medalist and winner of multiple high profile national high school tournaments.

Taleb hitting a mat return. Courtesy of Pitt Athletics

Additionally, Jesse Dellavecchia from Rider is coming down from 165 and Brady Berge (Penn State) and Anthony Artalona (Penn) are coming up from 149.

The separation between No. 5 (Berge) and No. 18 (Carr) in this weight class is razor thin. All the round of 16 and round of 12 matches will be toss-ups. Hey, someone has to win them.

Nino Bonaccorsi: 3rd. Sorry Pitt fans, but this is too high. Flo has him in front of Lou Deprez who has beaten Nino every time they’ve wrestled in Folkstyle or Freestyle. They have him ahead of Taylor Venz who pinned Nino at CKLV last year and placed 4th in 2018. He’s ahead of Shakur Rasheed, an All American from Penn State. Additionally, Trent Hidlay who earned a bronze medal at Junior Worlds last year, and other very solid guys such as Dylan Wisman, Cash Wilcke, and Sammy Colbray are lower than Nino.

Now, Nino did finish higher at NCAAs than some of these guys, so that aspect of the ranking is justified. However, being in front of Deprez, Venz, and Rasheed is a little perplexing. In all fariness, Nino should be 7th or 8th, still a favorite to All American.

But, with Hidlay likely to climb during the year, Nino might find himself in another battle in the Blood Round.

Kellan Stout: 19th. This is a pretty reasonable spot for Stout to start the year. Jake Woodley, who Kellan beat in the Oklahoma dual last year is two spots in front, but otherwise it’s hard to argue he should be any higher (or lower).

Like 157, the talent disparity from the low teens to the low 20s is minimal. There is no reason Kellan couldn’t find himself in the top 12 by the time ACCs roll around. Then he’s one win away. It’s easy to write, but guys ranked in this range place every year.

One of Kellan’s youth coaches at Mt. Lebanon had this to offer: “The best is yet to come.”

Demetrius Thomas: 14th. Meech had some high level wins last year over Seth Nevills, Matt Stencel, Jeramy Sweany, Cory Daniel, and Billy Miller. He lost to NCAA finalist Derek White 9-8. Even with his impressive 27-6 record and ACC individual title, this ranking seems appropriate for the senior.

Wrestling commentators have been postulating this could be the best heavyweight group ever, and that’s with Kyle Snyder and Nick Gwiazdowksi recently departing. There are multiple age-level World finalists including Gable Steveson and Jordan Wood, as well as returning champ Anthony Cassar.

A cursory look at the wrestlers ranked behind Meech seem to not pose much of a threat. He is solidly locked in the top 15. But the group ahead of him is a stout bunch. Tony Cassioppi is coming off redshirt for Iowa; same with Jere Heino of Campbell. Matt Stencel and Zach Elam who beat Meech last season are there. Not to mention Mason Parris, Trent Hillger, and Tanner Hall.

Like his fellow four returning qualifiers, Meech finds himself right in the DMZ of borderline All Americans.

Meech Thomas flexes after a big win.

All five of their paths are relatively similar: get an upset in the quarterfinals or beat their virtual equal in the Blood Round. All five are capable of placing. As I wrote earlier, Pitt’s record in the Blood Round over the last decade is 2-13. It’s about time they start winning.

Ranked Panthers

In addition to those five, Cole Matthews (No. 22 at 141) and Jake Wentzel (No. 19 at 165) have been dubbed top 25 to begin the year. Look for Gregg Harvey to enter at some point at 174. As a team, Pitt starts at No. 18.

Recruiting Update

ACC 2020 Recruiting Classes (rankings are an individual’s rank in the whole graduating class, not in his specific weight). To view all commits, click here.

Virginia Tech: 15, 19, 23, 24, 75

North Carolina State: 12, 35, 60, 143, 148, 151

North Carolina: 38, 48, 59, 89 (plus one deferred until Spring)

Pitt: 37, 192

Virginia: None ranked, one commit

Duke: None ranked, one commit

This isn’t promising if you’re a Pitt fan. The recruiting battle in the ACC is starting to heat up, and the three schools that beat Pitt last year are pulling ahead. This isn’t cause for full blown concern though. One good class can flip the entire scenario. Just need to get it.

It is conceivable a few years from now four schools from the ACC could place top 10 at NCAAs. Pitt should be one of them.

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