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Pitt Wrestling Dominates Duke for First ACC Win

Pitt's Taleb Rahmani wrestles against Duke on Jan. 25, 2020 at Card Gym in Durham, N.C. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now)

Pitt Wrestling Dominates Duke for First ACC Win

DURHAM, N.C. – Gregg Harvey doesn’t typically enter his bouts with a strategy. Instead, the 174-pound redshirt-junior for Pitt prefers to figure out his game-plan on the fly, after the match has already started.

Inside Duke University’s Card Gym on Saturday, Harvey quickly determined that he could rack up points and fast-track his way to victory by relentlessly taking his opponent to the mat. After the match started with him getting hit in the face, Harvey tallied seven takedowns against Matt Eaglin – Duke’s only ranked wrestler – and came away with a convincing 15-6 major.

“My style is pretty much just to push the pace. When I end up in my positions that I score in, I just need to capitalize on that,” Harvey said. “If that’s the way it happens in a match and I get a lot of takedowns, then so be it and I win… You can’t just go out there with one mind or strategy about a match.”

Like Harvey, every other Pitt wrestler who stepped on the mat Saturday morning found paths to swift victories. To call No. 10 Pitt’s performance dominant might be an understatement, as the Panthers grappled their way to a 50-0 win.

For Pitt, the achievement was important for two reasons. For starters, it was their first ACC win of the season. Secondly, it proved that the Panthers could bounce back in a big way after they suffered a 30-10 defeat at Oklahoma State last week. The win for Pitt was the most lopsided score they’ve posted this season.

“Regardless of who you’re wrestling, we don’t want to treat it any different,” Pitt head coach Keith Gavin said. “Maybe at Oklahoma State, some of our guys did. They let the moment get to them, maybe a little bit, and I think the momentum had something to do with that. So, this weekend is a good opportunity to have back-to-back weigh-ins, get some travel in and do something a little difficult and get to perform well. We want to be consistent with our approach.”

Unbeknownst to Pitt (6-2; 1-0 ACC), it entered the match against Duke with three dual wins in its pocket. The Blue Devils forfeited matches in the 125, 141 and 149 weight classes. A Duke spokesperson said they the Blue Devils had been forfeiting the 125 and 141 matches for most of the season because Duke is redshirting its wrestlers in those classes. And on Saturday, Duke’s 149 wrestler was dealing with an injury.

Perhaps Duke’s best wrestler this season, Matt Finesilver, is also redshirting as he prepares for a shot at the Olympic games in Tokyo. He was the ACC runner-up and an NCAA qualifier last season. He recently competed at the U23 World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.

And so, with those three forfeits and sixth-ranked Micky Phillippi’s pin in the 133-weight class, Pitt jumped out to a 24-0 lead. Phillippi now has a 17-1 record on the season. The advantage for Pitt increased to 30-0 when Taleb Rahmani pinned his opponent in the 157-pound bout.

In the 165-weight class, No. 10 Jake Wentzel got the day off and was replaced instead by sophomore Hunter Kernan. Typically a wrestler in the 157-pound class, Kerner improved his record this season to 8-5 with a 10-3 victory.

Pitt’s Gregg Harvey prepares to wrestle against Duke on Jan. 25, 2020 at Card Gym in Durham, N.C. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now)

Harvey, ranked 24th in the nation in his class, slammed his way to a win using a series of expertly timed takedowns. The second time he dropped Eaglin to the mat was especially vicious, as Harvey quickly dropped down, and grabbed his opponent’s left leg to plant him on his back.

“It’s important to dominate every match, but bouncing back off a loss like that, you just have to pick yourself out of the dirt and keep moving forward,” Harvey said. “You can’t just go out there and lay down for your opponents because you lost the week before.”

No. 9 Nino Bonaccorsi made quick work of Duke freshman Kai Blake in the 184-class, pinning him in under two minutes. In the 197-pound bout, Kellan Stout picked up his fifth win of the season by shutting out Duke’s Vincent Baker for a 14-0 major win.

In the heavyweight class, Gavin saw an opportunity to give No. 9 Demetrius Thomas some rest and opted to give junior Cole Rickert a chance to gain some confidence. Against Duke freshman Jonah Niesenbaum, Rickett notched a late takedown in the first round, got an escape in the third round and outlasted his opponent for a 3-1 win. It was Rickert’s third win of the season.

“(Rickert) was good. Demetrius is a senior this year and we need to get Cole some matches because he’s got a few more years,” Gavin said. “Just getting him in a dual-meet environment where there’s a little bit more pressure instead of an open tournament is important for his development. I’m glad we’re able to do that. He did a good job.”

Pitt has a quick turnaround from its match with Duke. On Sunday, they’ll host Edinboro. The Fighting Scots don’t have any ranked wrestlers, but do have six competitors who have at least 14 wins on the season.

“They always fight hard. Edinboro is going to wrestle you hard. They got some good guys on their team in 174, 197, so they have a number of pretty good guys,” Gavin said. “It’s going to be a good match. And our guys, if we do what we’re supposed to do, I think we’ll be happy with the result, but it’s a matter of actually doing it.”

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