Simply “working hard” and always “learning something from every experience,” whether that experience was a success or a failure, turned redshirt senior and Pitt 184-pounder, Gregg Harvey, into a 2020 NCAA qualifier.
“When I was a little kid, I might not have been the flashiest wrestler, but my coaches and my dad pushed me to work hard,” Harvey said. “No matter what I did, whether that be school, a job, or wrestling, just go give it 110%. And if you fail, you learn from it and move on.”
In 2016, Harvey signed to continue both his academic and athletic careers at the University of Pittsburgh. Like many grapplers who are bound to compete at the NCAA Division I level, he was an accomplished high school wrestler.
The Boyertown Area Senior High School product ended his prep career as a two-time PIAA State Medalist, who finished with 168 career wins – just two behind the school record. Also, Harvey fared well in numerous elite high school tournaments during his final season with the Bears, recording top-four finishes at King of the Mountain, Escape the Rock and Beast of the East He also placed sixth at the notoriously difficult Super 32 tournament.
Now, five years later, the match-winning consistency with which Harvey defined his strong prep career has dissipated slightly. Today, Harvey is wrestling under an entirely different coaching staff then the one he was recruited by, he has seen time at three different weight classes in just four seasons, and he has yet to win his first conference crown or compete at his first NCAA championships.
“In high school, you sometimes wrestle guys that aren’t top-level guys, and you can get away with coming out of position,” Harvey said. “But even though you’re getting away with it (being out of position), you’re not seeing it and learning from it. Then, it carries on over what to when you get to college.”
“Every match in college, you’re wrestling top-level guys. They might not (all) be ranked, (but they) are still really good wrestlers,” Harvey continued. “You’re going to get exposed early on in your career at different positions. And that’s when you need to step back and say, ‘Okay, I need to fix this.’”
Harvey learned this harsh reality of “being exposed” during his first couple years in a Pitt singlet. In his redshirt freshman campaign in 2017-18, wrestling at 184 and 197, Harvey went 14-14 overall with a 5-9 mark in duals. At the ACC Championships that year, Harvey finished fourth after after going 2-2.
At the time, Pitt head coach Keith Gavin liked the effort he was seeing out of his redshirt freshman, Harvey, despite him being undersized for the weight.
Following his redshirt rookie season, as a redshirt sophomore, Harvey cut to 174 pounds once current teammate Nino Bonaccorsi – a heralded high school recruit – entered the Pitt program – and was set to compete at 184 pounds. Having Harvey drop to 174 was simply a decision that was in the best interest of the team – and it was also Harvey’s way of staying in the starting lineup.
That year, in 2018-19, Harvey saw similar results yet again. At the lighter weight, Harvey went 11-10 on the season, but did improve significantly in dual meets, posting a 10-6 record. However, his 2-5 record within the ACC still wasn’t where he wanted it to be.
Despite a poor ACC record as a redshirt sophomore, it was clear Harvey was still trending upward, he was developing. Not only did Harvey collect his first collegiate win over a ranked opponent – defeating then-No. 20 Daniel Bullard of NC State, helping the Panthers to an upset of then-ranked No. 8 NC State on the road, but also, he recorded a much-needed win over Robert Patrick of Virginia in the dual meet, outlasting his opponent in TB-2, 3-2, helping Pitt to yet another team win in ACC play.
“Once Nino (Bonaccorsi) came in, I went down to 174 to fit in the lineup correctly,” Harvey said. “That was a weight cut for me. And, even though I was cutting weight, I still knew that I had to give 110% effort out there, the weight cut was no excuse.”
In the offseason leading into the 2019-20, his redshirt junior season, Harvey, still cutting to 174 to “make the lineup fit correctly,” He made some adjustments, two in particular: Getting better from both the top and bottom positions and staying “focused enough” in the neutral position to secure takedowns.
The offseason adjustments worked. Last year, as a redshirt junior, Harvey found his way to a 17-8 overall record, which included an 8-4 standing in dual meets, and a perfect 4-0 in ACC action. His marks were good enough to punch a ticket to NCAAs for the first time in his career.
Harvey was one of seven Panthers grapplers who earned the opportunity to compete at the 2020 NCAA Division I Championships at U.S. Back Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 19-21.
“We came close, but NC State wrestled a little bit better,” Gavin said last March following the ACC Championship. “Having seven qualifiers is big.”
Unfortunately, less than four days after Harvey and the rest of the Panthers nearly won their first ACC title in program history, finishing just four team points behind the reigning ACC champs, No. 4 NC State, the 2020 NCAAs were cancelled due to growing fears over the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I wouldn’t say it’s fuel to the fire,” Harvey said in regards to any extra motivation to make it to NCAAs again in 2021 after having them cancelled last year. “It’s more (a sense of) belief. You believe in yourself a little bit more because you’ve been in those situations where you’re down by a point and need to get a takedown. You believe that you can do those things and secure those victories.”
Harvey isn’t the only one that has supreme confidence in himself and his abilities, his head coach does as well, so much so that Gavin chose Harvey to be a team captain during this condensed, pandemic-altered 2021 campaign. Harvey is one of four Pitt captains along with Micky Phillippi (133), Jake Wentzel (165), and Bonaccorsi (197).
For Harvey, his captaincy is something he appreciates, but certainly isn’t intimated by.
“I wouldn’t say (being a team captain) influences me to act any different,” Harvey said. “That role just lets me know that I’m doing the right things. And I’m doing them the way he (Coach Gavin) expects them to be done, (plus) a little more. I carry myself to a high standard, and I expect my teammates to carry themselves to a high standard.”
“So, them (the coaches) seeing me put in extra hours, or them seeing me come back from a workout that no one else told me to do, is something that he (Gavin) has seen me do for a long time now. And I continue to do it, because that’s one of the only ways that I get better,” Harvey continued.
Harvey certainly has “gotten better” throughout his first four seasons wearing the Blue and Gold, carrying that momentum of being a 2020 NCAA qualifier into the current season.
Through four matches, Harvey is unbeaten. He has amassed 39 total points while surrendering just 12 points to opponents over that four-match span. Additionally, in two of those matches, Harvey recorded bonus-point wins, include a 10-0 shutout last week against Duke.
Not only has the Pitt fifth-year improved on the mat, he’s improved in terms his leadership in the practice room as well, especially his mentorship of Jared McGill, Pitt’s redshirt freshman 174-pounder, who is also a perfect 4-0 this season.
“I work out with Jared almost daily,” Harvey said of his tutelage toward sparring partner McGill. “And so far, for me, it’s mainly been about getting his hand fighting up to speed. From my perspective, I’m a person (who believes) in hand-fighting and certain feels that you can get when you know someone’s either gonna attack or they’re gonna be defending. You can feel all that in college, at least in the hand fight. Just trying to teach him where those feels are and how to use them to his advantage has been a good stepping stone for him so far.”
Harvey attributes some of his early-season offensive success to being an atypical upper-weight wrestler, one has exceptionally quick feet and a strong hand fighting ability, both intangibles he says he learned long begore his days wrestling in Fitzgerald Field House.
“I actually started doing that (hand fighting) when I was in high school and I still do it in college,” Harvey said of his grappling style. “I wrestle at least a couple times a week with lighter guys just keep my feet moving. And hand fighting has always been my niche. My high school coach used to say that I looked like a boxer out there just because I like to hand fight so much. I like to get my hands dirty. But that’s part of who I am.”
As for Harvey’s speed and lightness on his feet, that comes from making a diligent, forced effort, to practice with his lightweight teammates and making sure he can keep pace with them, something not all upper-weights routinely do during practices.
While only time will tell if Harvey becomes an NCAA qualifier for a second straight season in March, or how many more wins he will add to his Panthers’ record (which is currently 68-47), or how many ACC titles, or All-America honors he will have when his college wrestling career concludes in 2022, after utilizing his extra eligibility, a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is one thing that likely can be said with certainty.
Gregg Harvey will keep working hard. He will keep learning from his mistakes. And, most importantly, Gregg Harvey will be a better wrestler in 2022 than he is today because of those extra efforts and strong work ethic he’s always had.