It would be negligent to publish a wrestling article today without addressing the NCAA’s decision to allow only “essential staff and limited family” to attend the upcoming D1 Championships. The NCAA Wrestling Championships are to take place in US Bank Stadium, the home of the Minnesota Vikings, and the largest venue ever for the tournament. While concerns of viewing ability from far away seats were legitimate, there was palpable excitement in the wrestling community in anticipation of having 40,000 plus fans in attendance. Now, there will be zero.
Not only will fans and media be banned from attending the wrestling season’s No. 1 event, but there are already strong rumors that certain schools will pull out as well, namely Harvard. This is not confirmed, but the fact that it’s already circulating on social media gives rise to the suspicion it is most likely true. It remains to be seen if alternates will attend instead, or if the affected weight classes will be contested with less than 33 participants. A lot of information is unknown at this point, and we will continue to update this article as more is made public. In the mean time, seven Pitt Panthers received their seeds and draws for the tournament – and assuming it even takes place at all – let’s dive in.
133 Micky Phillippi, No. 4 seed: Micky will once again be seeded fourth, and will once again likely have to go through Roman Bravo-Young of Penn State to become an All American. This year however, Micky is slated to face RBY in the quarterfinals, and if he should lose, would have another chance to win the round of 12 or “Blood Round”. Micky should be able to make it to the quarters no problem, as his first round match is with Codi Russell of Appalachian State and his second round against either Tim Rooney of Kent State of Louie Hayes of Virginia. Micky is 25-1 this season and just won his second ACC title. As the No. 4 seed, the pressure is on.
*Note: for the sake of simplicity and not trying to predict the future, I will not be analyzing anyone’s potential path through the consolations nor his potential Blood Round opponent.
141 Cole Matthews, No. 27 seed: Cole qualified for his first NCAA tournament in his first try when he won the 3rd place bout at the ACC Championships on Sunday. Cole will face Chad Red, an All American from Nebraska in the first round. Red is one of the best 141 pounders in the country, there is no doubt about that. Although he can be inconsistent, he always shows up ready for NCAAs. This is a tough match for Cole.
157 Taleb Rahmani, No. 23 seed: As the 17th four-time qualifier in Pitt history, Taleb will look to check off his one elusive achievement: become an All American. He’s been close, very close, but has yet to reach the podium. His journey this year will start with No. 10 seed Will Lewan of Michigan. This is a winnable match for Taleb and would likely set up a second round match with Josh Humphreys of Lehigh whom Taleb pinned earlier this year. If you’re thinking there’s no way Taleb could wrestle Hayden Hidlay yet another time, think again. That is Taleb’s potential quarterfinal opponent. Eighth time’s the charm?
165 Jake Wentzel, No. 11 seed: Jake earned his first bid to the NCAA Championships after beating Kennedy Monday in the semifinals at ACCs. He then put the cherry on top by beating 3x All American David McFadden in the finals. His wins over McFadden and Ethan Smith of Ohio State, in addition to his quality season overall helped Jake garner a high seed. His first round opponent is Tanner Cook of South Dakota State, with his likely second round foe to be fellow WPIAL native Josh Shields of Arizona State (Franklin Regional).
174 Gregg Harvey, No. 22 seed: The redshirt junior also punched his first ticket to National’s with a third place finish at the conference tourney. Harvey will face Neal Richards of VMI, the 11th seed in the first round. Richards has seven losses this year, and Harvey can certainly beat him. His potential second round matchup is Kaleb Romero of Ohio State. Romero beat Harvey 7-2 in the dual back in November.
184 Nino Bonaccorsi, No. 10 seed: Competing in his second NCAA tournament, Nino will look to improve on his Blood Round finish last season. His hopes of doing that start with Marcus Coleman of Iowa State in the first round, and will probably go through Taylor Venz of Nebraska in the second. This is interesting for Nino. He had Venz dead to rights last year before he got pinned, and if he can avoid getting caught, could likely beat him this time around. Now, if Nino can pull off those two wins, his quarterfinal bout is slated to be the No. 2 seed, Hunter Bolen of Virginia Tech. Surely you remember their marathon match from a few weeks that saw Nino victorious.
285 Demetrius Thomas, No. 7 seed: After winning his second straight ACC title, like Micky, Meech is striving to best his placement from a year ago after a disappointing tournament. As the seventh seed, Meech is clearly looked upon as a favorite to All American, and his path is perfectly doable. A first round match with Thomas Penola of Purdue and a second round with Yaraslau Slavikouski of Harvard or Quinn Miller of Virginia shouldn’t prevent Meech from making his way to the quarters. That would pit him against Mason Parris, the stud sophomore and No. 2 seed from Michigan. Meech lost to Parris 14-3 earlier this season.
Seven qualifiers is the most Pitt has sent since 2014 and the most in the Keith Gavin era. Pitt has not had an All American since 2015. With four wrestlers seeded in the top 11, this is the year for that to change.
Kellan Stout fought back hard to finish third at ACCs, but did not have a strong enough regular season to get an at-large bid.
Louis Newell and Dallas Bulsak also did not qualify.