Wrestling: Panthers crack Top-10 for first time since 1963

By Mike Furlong

After two victories over two top-10 teams in as many weeks, the Pitt wrestling team is now… After two victories over two top-10 teams in as many weeks, the Pitt wrestling team is now ranked No. 8 in the nation.

The Panthers made a strong case for becoming a top-10 team with a win at Lehigh on Nov. 12 followed by a win at home against Michigan on Nov. 19. Both Lehigh and Michigan were ranked No. 6 at the time of the matches.

In the victory against Michigan, the Panthers were able to clinch a 19-13 win on an overtime takedown by senior heavyweight Zac Thomusseit.

Thomusseit -— who weighs in at about 210 pounds — overcame a 50-pound size disadvantage and kept the score tied at 1-1 to end regulation with No. 12-ranked Ben Apland.

“Going into overtime, I was really looking to score in that first minute,” Thomusseit said. “I really didn’t want to take it to a ride-out with that guy.”

With less than ten seconds remaining in the one-minute sudden-victory period, Thomusseit and Apland went into a scramble. It was Thomusseit who came out with a double-leg takedown that was awarded as time ran out. The takedown brought the spectators at the Fitzgerald Field House to their feet as the bout secured a 19-13 Panthers victory.

“That was definitely one of the best matches I’ve been a part of,” Thomusseit said. “Beating a team as good as Michigan felt really good. Going into the match, I was pretty pumped after seeing my little brother [Max Thomusseit] and [Matt] Wilps both pick up wins. That gave me some momentum.”

The Panthers’ coaches were originally unsure if Thomusseit was going to wrestle, as both he and freshman Joel Yahner were introduced at heavyweight. In the previous two seasons, Thomusseit has had success as a national qualifier at 184 pounds and 197 pounds.

“You know it’s not all about size,” assistant coach Jason Peters said. “Zac [Thomusseit] has a big heart. He’s a really strong kid and he has a strong desire to win. That’s something that can’t be measured in weight. It’s really unseen and he has a lot of that.”

The Panthers got off to an early 4-0 lead over Michigan on a 16-5 major decision victory for junior Anthony Zanetta. The win brings Zanetta to an undefeated 7-0 record on the season.

“Zanetta really is our Energizer Bunny,” head coach Rande Stottlemyer said. “He’s the one that gets us going, and that’s important. He can do that whether he wins or loses, because he just hustles. He’s a great guy to start a match for us.”

With Thomusseit at heavyweight and a lineup with a total of seven wrestlers ranked in their weight classes, the Panthers now look to maintain their standing and continue to improve over the course of the season.

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

Against Michigan, sophomore Max Thomusseit and redshirt senior Ethan Headlee both made their season debuts — injuries had previously sidelined both wrestlers. Both Thomusseit and Headlee are returning national qualifiers.

Max Thomusseit scored a 6-2 decision win to tie the match with Michigan. Thomusseit is currently ranked No. 22 in the nation at 184 pounds, according to WrestlingReport.com, after his first bout of the season.

Headlee lost his bout 4-2 to No. 7 Justin Zeerip. Headlee is now ranked No. 21 in the nation. He’s returning from three seasons of 20 or more wins and three trips to the NCAA Championships.

“It was a pretty big challenge asking them [Max Thomusseit and Headlee] to step in for their first competition against a top-10 team,” Peters said. “Unfortunately, Ethan wasn’t able to get the win, but he wrestled pretty well against a good wrestler.”

Zanetta’s undefeated 7-0 record has been a welcome surprise, and he is now ranked No. 13 in the nation. Zanetta is also a two-time national qualifier, but last season he got off to a slow start and had a 3-4 record at this point in the season.

Redshirt senior Tyler Nauman currently holds a record identical to Zanetta’s, as Nauman has risen in the rankings to No. 3 at 149 pounds. He has become a fixture of success in the Panthers’ lineup as a three-time NCAA qualifier and returning All-American. He currently has 119 wins as a Panther.

Redshirt junior Wilps rounds out the list of Panthers in the rankings, and is now No. 6 in the country at 197 pounds. Wilps’ 6-2 decision victory against Michigan’s Max Huntley was his third victory against a ranked opponent this season.

The Panthers return to action Dec. 2 in Las Vegas for the Cliff Keen Invitational. The invitational — at which three eventual national champions won titles last season — should be another good test for the Panthers.

The list of registrants for the invitational includes wrestlers from many of the top-ranked programs in the nation. At least six teams currently in the top 10 and a total of 13 teams from the top 25 are scheduled to wrestle at the event.

“Going out to Las Vegas for the Cliff Keen [Invitational] is a good move for us,” Stottlemyer said. “We’ll see some guys out there that we wouldn’t usually see until the NCAA’s [Championships].”