The No. 14 ranked wrestling team kicked off their season on Sunday against Navy. The Panthers trailed for much of the dual after getting behind in the lighter weights, but eventually pulled away for a 22-14 win.
With several ranked wrestlers, Navy proved to be a formidable foe. Pitt was missing assumed starter Louis Newell at 125 pounds and his backup Colton Camacho was defeated by Logan Treaster, 5-1, to put in an early 3-0 hole. No. 4 Micky Phillippi for Pitt scored an 8-3 win over Jacob Allen at 133 pounds to tie things up but the Panthers fell behind again when Cole Matthews lost to Cody Trybus at 141 pounds in overtime, 6-4. Both were ranked in the Top 15 entering the match.
Nothing too surprising in those early bouts, I guess. Phillippi really took a while to get things going, leading only 2-0 late before scoring some late takedowns. It was a classic Phillippi match for a while — no mistakes, low scoring, then flattening out his opponent to get a riding time point. But had he been a bit more aggressive early on as he was late, Pitt could have picked up some extra points.
Matthews’ match was notable because he just looked out of gas late. While his opponent was jogging back to the line, he seemed much slower, even leaning over before the overtime period began. His opponent had nearly scored takedowns late at the end of the first two periods and his relatively easy defeat in overtime was not surprising given that.
Trailing 6-3, an unranked Luke Kemerer for Pitt lost to No. 19 Casey Cobb, 5-3. Kemerer scored an early takedown but that was really the highlight for him. Four bouts in, Pitt was trailing 9-3 and on the ropes a bit.
Trouble continued at 157 pounds where Pitt is trying desperately to replace the graduated Taleb Rahmani. The notes for the dual showed a total of nine grapplers at that weight and getting the nod was Tylor Badgett for Pitt. Badgett was one of Pitt’s better recruits in the 2020 class but was completely overmatched by an equally unranked Andrew Cerniglia, down 12-1 at the end of the first period and suffering a 16-1 tech fall a few seconds into the second period. That, by the way, was the first match for either as Pitt faced a 14-3 deficit. The question will be if the job is Badgett’s to keep or if others will get a shot.
At 165 pounds was maybe the best matchup on paper — No. 10 Jake Wentzel for Pitt vs. No. 7 Tanner Skidgel for Navy. And it’s here where things started to turn around.
After a scoreless first period, Wentzel put together a great ride for the entire period to take a 1-0 lead into the third period. Things got interesting in the third with Skidgel getting two near fall points and then Wentzel reversing it, picking up two points of his own. Riding time gave him an impressive 5-2 win to cut the lead to 14-6.
Momentum continued for Pitt in the next bout. Jared McGill got the start for Pitt at 174 pounds, admittedly one of the team’s questionable areas. He faced off against Dean Caravela for Navy with both wrestlers unranked. McGill was not sensational but scored a takedown and was able to hang on for a 3-2 win.
If you haven’t noticed, Pitt did a bit of shuffling this year. I’m not sure if it’s to cover the loss of Kellan Stout at 197 pounds, to make room for another 174-pounder, or if it’s just about moving guys to better classes for them. But Gregg Harvey has moved from 174 to 184 pounds while Nino Bonaccorsi has moved from 184 to 197.
No. 18 Harvey had some issues but, as he often does, showed some solid offense and was not afraid to take shots on his opponent in a 12-7 win to make it a 14-12 deficit for Pitt. No. 5 Bonaccorsi got a bit of an early surprise from unranked Malcolm Wiley, who got an early shot in on a leg before action spilled out of bounds. But after that, he put on a clinic, repeatedly catching and releasing for a dominant 24-9 win, giving the Panthers their first lead of the dual at 17-14 with Bonaccorsi’s technical fall win.
The Panthers’ biggest loss from last season, of course, was at heavyweight with Demetrius Thomas graduating. Cole Rickert probably looked like the eventual starter there but instead the Panthers got a transfer over the summer from George Mason in sophomore Jake Slinger. Slinger, a sophomore, initially had a bit of interest from Pitt and others before settling on George Mason. But this summer he transferred here and got the call here in a battle of unranked heavyweights.
Slinger was immediately impressive in a technical fall win, 16-0, against an overmatched Riley Smith. Like Thomas, he was probably a bit more agile than your traditional heavyweight. That helped the Panthers avoid the upset and win their season debut, 22-14.
Overall, bit of a bumpy ride for Pitt here and they didn’t really get going until the later bouts, winning the last five matchups. Navy entered the dual with several ranked wrestlers of their own and the Panthers also were down Newell at 125 pounds. Still, things definitely could have gone a bit better for Pitt in those earlier weight classes. The Panthers continue to have work to do at the lower end of the lineup. Phillippi is a star, of course, and Matthews has a firm hold at 141. After that, it’s a bit of a tossup until you get to the heavier weights.
Coming out of this, Pitt has real questions still at 149 pounds and, even more so, at 157 pounds. Despite McGill’s win at 174, you can probably say the same thing there, too. And honestly, what the team gets out of Newell or anybody at 125 is still undecided. I liked what we saw at heavyweight, obviously, but lots of questions remain.
Next up is a dual Saturday against Lehigh.