Wrestling: Panthers square up with Ohio State

By Mike Furlong

When someone references the number six to Pittsburgh fans, most think of the Steelers’… When someone references the number six to Pittsburgh fans, most think of the Steelers’ six-pack of Super Bowls. But for the Panthers’ wrestling team, the number six might take on a whole new meaning.

On Friday night, the Panthers (3-0) will wrestle No. 6-ranked Ohio State (4-0). The Buckeyes are the third team Pitt has wrestled that entered the match with such a ranking.

A victory for the Panthers would be their third win over a No. 6-ranked opponent, after wins over Lehigh and Michigan.

This time around, the Pitt team is not as much of an underdog as it was when the season began. On Dec. 6, the team rose to No. 9 in the NCWA/USA Today Coaches Poll.

Last week, Pitt entered the top 10 for the first time since 1963. Now the goal for the Panthers is not to hold their ground, but to continue improving and growing as a team.

“We have to keep doing what we do,” assistant coach Jason Peters said following the win over Michigan. “We’re going to keep trying to work hard and execute what we work in practice and let the rankings take care of themselves.”

Despite key wins over Lehigh and Michigan, Ohio State might be the team’s stiffest competition to date. The Buckeyes are coming off a team title at the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas, where the Panthers finished in eighth place. In Las Vegas, eight of the Buckeyes’ wrestlers placed in the top six at the tournament.

“I’m confident in our guys,” Pitt assistant coach Matt Kocher said. “We’re a strong dual-meet team because we have 10 good guys and can win at every weight. Zac Thomusseit will be back in the lineup for us, and that should complete our team. We’re a better team now than we were last week. Ohio State is good also, and they have some aces on their team. But I think we can come out on top.”

Although Las Vegas wasn’t a huge success for the Panthers, head coach Rande Stottlemyer is ready to put it behind the team.

“To finish in the top 10 in the team scoring means something to us,” Stottlemyer said. “We still could have done a lot better, but tournaments like that are some long days, so we did pretty well.”

Every bout of the matchup between the Buckeyes and the Panthers should be entertaining, with many toss-up bouts in which either wrestler could come out on top. But the Panthers must find a way to win several key bouts in order to leave as victors with the top-ranked wrestlers the Buckeyes have in their lineup.

The Panthers will look to get an early lead as they have done earlier in the season. No. 17-ranked junior Anthony Zanetta will matchup with No. 15-ranked Johnni DiJulius. DiJulius is coming off a fourth-place finish in Las Vegas, and Zanetta finished in seventh place.

At 133 and 141 pounds, the Buckeyes offer the Stieber brothers, Logan and Hunter. At 133 pounds, Logan was the tournament champion in Las Vegas last weekend, and his younger brother Hunter was the tournament runner-up at 141 pounds. Both are ranked in the top 10 individually.

At 133 pounds, Pitt’s No. 18 Shelton Mack will match up with Logan Stieber. Mack has improved during his sophomore campaign, beginning the season 2-1 in dual meets.

At 141 pounds, freshman Travis Shaffer will look to continue his success in his rookie campaign, as he has already recorded decision wins in key matches with wins over both Michigan and Lehigh.

The Panthers might have to count on their middleweights Tyler Nauman, Donnie Tasser and Tyler Wilps to come out with wins in their matchups with three of the Buckeyes’ freshmen. So far, the trio of Panthers middleweights have combined for a 5-4 record in dual meets.

“I’ve been really happy with how Tyler [Wilps] has wrestled,” Kocher said following the Cliff Keen Invitational. “He has taken some tough losses this season to some good kids, but we know that he can win some matches for us.”

Nauman has been a reliable member of the Panthers’ dual meet lineup for some time, and has compiled a 44-3 dual meet record over the last three seasons. His presence in the lineup for a dual meet is reassuring to the Panthers.

The upper weights have been a particularly strong point this season for the Panthers. The trio of Max Thomusseit, Matt Wilps and Zac Thomusseit has proven to be a tough group to beat.

Max Thomusseit, still battling back from an upper extremity injury, did not place in Las Vegas. Following the tournament, the Pitt coaching staff was hopeful that Thomusseit would turn it around in time for the match with Ohio State. Thomusseit will match up with Ohio State’s C.J. Magrum, a two-time NCAA qualifier.

“I think that Max [Thomusseit] had a little bit of a mental thing that he was going through in Vegas,” Kocher said. “He’s a tough guy and he’s ready to go physically. He needs to get his confidence with his conditioning and skills that he’s had, but he should be ready to go for us.”

At No. 5 in the nation at 197 pounds, Matt Wilps has become the highest-ranked Panther wrestler. Wilps has compiled a 12-2 record this season, including a perfect 3-0 mark in dual meets thus far. Wilps’ opponent from Ohio State — Andrew Campolattano, a freshman from New Jersey — did not place in Las Vegas. But Campolattano does hold a stellar high school record of 178-1.

At heavyweight, the matchup will feature two wrestlers whom many would consider to be undersized for the weight class. Both the Panthers’ Zac Thomusseit and the Buckeyes’ Peter Capone competed at 184 pounds and 197 pounds in the past before bumping up to the heavyweight 285 pound bracket. Capone finished in second place in Las Vegas, while Zac Thomusseit sat out with a minor injury.

The matchup between the two top-10-ranked teams is set for Friday night at 7 p.m. in the Fitzgerald Field House.