Pitt almost won the 2020 ACC Wrestling Championship.
In fact, the Panthers came about as close as possible to winning it without actually doing so. Pitt came in second place, four points behind NC State.
The bout that proved crucial was at 141 pounds, where top-seeded Wolfpack wrestler Tariq Wilson got up big, but Pitt’s Cole Matthews came roaring back, putting Wilson on his back in the third period.
Wilson was about as close to being pinned as a wrestler can be. The Pitt partisans in the crowd at Petersen Events Center certainly felt that his shoulders were on the mat. Matthews didn’t get the call, Wilson won the match 10-9 and that combined with his advancement points were enough to secure the team title for NC State.
“The first thing I thought about was our team race,” Matthews said this week. “If I would have gotten that pin against Wilson … I think we would have won ACCs as a team, which would have been pretty sweet.”
A few days later, Pitt’s season ended with the cancellation of the 2020 NCAA Championships due to COVID-19. That cancellation was a bitter pill for everyone across the wrestling community, but for the Panthers, so close to achieving a lesser goal, it seemed doubly unfair.
Friday night, Pitt will get its first chance at a rematch, as the Panthers and Wolfpack will meet in a dual meet in Raleigh. NC State brings back almost all of its first-place team, while the Panthers have had to regroup in some weight classes, but still posses a strong core that includes Matthews, who will once again try to unseat Wilson at 141.
It’s a chance not just for individual and team revenge for the way the ACC Championships finished last year, but an important early season measuring stick for the Panthers. If they want to prove that they are again an ACC contender and again a team that will be expected to send a strong team to the NCAA tournament, a victory or a strong showing against the No. 5-ranked Wolfpack would go a long way.
“The last couple of years, they’ve been the top team in the conference,” Pitt head coach Keith Gavin said. “Their team this year is the same team they had last year. They didn’t graduate anybody from that team. It’s going to be a tough challenge for our guys, but I think we’re ready for that.”
The team has shown steady upward progress under Gavin, who started in 2017. They went 4-11 in 2017-18, 13-3 in 2018-19 and 10-4 last year. They qualified seven wrestlers for the 2020 NCAA tournament after sending five in 2019. The upward trajectory has been noticeable and significant.
But right now, from a team perspective, the Wolfpack are standing in Pitt’s way. That could change Friday night.