After a tumultuous month in which the Pitt wrestling team underwent a midseason coaching change and dropped its first three conference matches, the Panthers hit their stride this weekend.
No. 24 Pitt (10-5 overall, 1-3 ACC) went 2-0 over the weekend, defeating the Iowa State Cyclones at home Friday night by a score of 22-15, then besting the No. 23 Virginia Cavaliers in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Sunday, 19-14.
Both wins came after a disappointing result against No. 8 NC State on Feb. 3, in which the Panthers fell just short of a massive upset in a 23-15 defeat.
“Coming off our match last week at NC State, we didn’t come out with a win, but I thought we came out with a lot of momentum with our guys,” acting co-head coach Drew Headlee said after Friday’s meet. “There’s a lot of motivation going into the team. We’re staying headstrong.”
The 133-pounders kicked off Friday’s competition, as No. 8 Dom Forys took on the Cyclones’ No. 12 Earl Hall Jr. The two wrestlers met last year in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 12 with All-American status on the line. Hall won in a 13-7 decision, but Forys exacted revenge Friday, winning 6-2.
“The Round of 12, they call it the Blood Rounds,” Forys said. “It was heartbreaking [getting eliminated last year], but it feels good tonight.”
Headlee said defeating a returning All-American — especially one who already held a win over Forys — will pay dividends for Pitt’s top wrestler moving forward.
“That match [against Hall] was what kept [Forys] out of the NCAA Tournament last year and kept him from being All-American,” Headlee said. [It’s] been on replay in his brain and getting that match back gives him a lot of confidence going into the postseason.”
Nick Zanetta followed Forys’ lead, defeating John Meeks in a 9-4 decision in the 141-pound match. Iowa State’s 149-pounder Gabe Moreno arrested the Panthers momentum just minutes later by pinning Pitt senior Mikey Racciato in the first period. Although Racciato generally comes out of transitional moments with the advantage, Friday night he could not regain his bearings.
“Mikey has a style that no one else has, he’s kind of a funky style wrestler,” Headlee said, denying the suggestion that Racciato’s time off the mat lent to his loss. “Nine times out of 10, he probably comes out on top, but this situation wasn’t in his favor.”
The Cyclones couldn’t celebrate for long, as redshirt freshman Taleb Rahmani picked up his team-leading eighth fall against fellow redshirt freshman Colston DiBlasi to improve to 17-6 on the season.
After a lengthy first period scramble, the referees stopped the match for a score review, changing the board from 4-1 to 8-5 after counting previously missed near falls and takedowns. Subsequent a scoreless second period, Rahmani started the third from the top position and didn’t give DiBlasi a chance to escape, pinning his opponent 24 seconds into the final period.
“[DiBlasi] ended up getting the reversal and put me to my back, then somehow I got out of that, got a reversal, and put him to his back,” Rahmani said. “It was a crazy match.”
During the 165-pound bout, No. 11 TeShan Campbell had a major decision over Logan Breitenbach. The action-packed match featured Campbell scoring takedown after takedown and benefiting from three two-point nearfalls. At the end of the match, the Panthers were up 16-6 as a team.
The Panthers won by a final score of 22-15 Friday, but had little time to relax after the win. Immediately after the completion of the dual, the Panthers began preparing for Sunday’s match against the No. 23 Cavaliers.
“As soon as the guys came off the mat tonight, our minds were focused on Sunday. A lot of the guys went right back down to the wrestling room, put sweats on and cut weight,” Headlee said Friday night. “It’s brutal, but it’s what you’ve got to do.”
With the heavyweights leading off the match Sunday, Pitt’s No. 20 Ryan Solomon grabbed a major decision over Virginia’s Tyler Love with a bout score of 11-1. Directly afterwards, Panthers’ 125-pounder Bentley fell to No. 8 Jack Mueller of Virginia by a 16-1 technical fall.
Forys defeated Will Mason to move Pitt into the lead. After Cavaliers’ 141-pounder George DiCamillo defeated Zanetta, 9-3, the Panthers collected three consecutive wins by Racciato, Rahmani and Campbell.
Redshirt sophomore 197-pounder Zach Bruce guaranteed Pitt’s victory, finishing the day’s meet with a one-point decision over Cavalier Will Schany. The Panthers finished their hectic weekend with a 19-14 win over UVA.
“Overall it was a good weekend,” Pitt acting co-head coach Matt Kocher said in a press release. “The team came together for a good effort and we had fun doing it.”
The team’s next meet will take place on Feb. 18, as the Panthers will host the Duke Blue Devils at Fitzgerald Field House.