Wrestling: Panthers find success in season opener

By Mike Furlong

In a weekend full of rivalries in Pittsburgh, bitter matchups continued on the mats between the… In a weekend full of rivalries in Pittsburgh, bitter matchups continued on the mats between the Pitt Panthers’ and the Edinboro Fighting Scots’ wrestling squads.

The Panthers squared off with Edinboro, Lehigh and Buffalo at the Buffalo Open on Sunday. Both the Panthers and Fighting Scots had three wrestlers come home with titles on the weekend. There were also four championship matches pitting wrestlers from Pitt against wrestlers from Edinboro.

“Going into the finals, it was great for our guys to have a couple of matches between our guys and Edinboro,” assistant coach Matt Kocher said. “Having those matches at 125 and 133 [pounds] between us and Edinboro was exciting. It got us pumped to go and wrestle them later in the season.”

The tournament, which was the first of the season for Pitt, landed seven of the 12 competing Pitt wrestlers spots in a championship match.

Leading the way for the Panthers was junior Anthony Zanetta, claiming the title at 125 pounds by a 6-0 decision over Edinboro’s Kory Mines. Zanetta began the tournament with a 23-6 technical fall victory in the third period of his first bout, followed by another 23-6 technical fall victory in his second bout. The bout between Zanetta and Mines could be an interesting one later in the season, as Mines is a highly touted redshirt freshman who won two Ohio state championships in high school.

“It was nice for us to get a look at Edinboro,” assistant coach Jason Peters said. “They have an exciting team with a lot of young guys getting their first chance in the lineup. Normally we don’t see them this early in the year but I think it was good for us.”

At 133 pounds, the Panthers and Fighting Scots squared off again with a matchup between Pitt sophomore Shelton Mack and Edinboro redshirt freshman AJ Schopp. Schopp got the best of Mack with a 1-0 decision to claim the title. The two are highly ranked in the Eastern Wrestling League. Mack took third in the league last year, while Schopp placed in the top three four times in Pennsylvania state championships during high school.

“Shelton did a great job for us,” Peters said. “Shelton knows A.J. Schopp, the two wrestled in high school in the same area. As long as Shelton continues to improve he could very well earn himself his first EWL title.”

Redshirt junior Matt Wilps matched up with Edinboro’s returning All-American Chris Honeycutt in the finals at 197 pounds. Honeycutt came away with a 7-2 victory to claim the title. The tournament marked Wilps’ return to the lineup after a redshirt season. Wilps won four bouts on the day, including two by major decision and one by fall, as well as a 2-1 overtime victory over Joseph Kennedy, a two-time NCAA qualifier from Lehigh.

“I think that was the best weight at the tournament,” Kocher said. “Between Honeycutt, Kennedy and Wilps, you have some quality guys. The match with Honeycutt was probably the toughest he’s had in awhile. He was on the defense way too much but we know that he’s capable of scoring more points.”

The fourth finals match between the Panthers and Fighting Scots came at heavyweight in a showdown between Pitt senior Zac Thomusseit and Edinboro redshirt sophomore Ernest James. Thomusseit defeated James by a 3-2 decision to take the title. The tournament was the first time that Thomusseit competed at heavyweight after being an NCAA qualifier at both 184 pounds and 197 pounds.

“He did a really good job wrestling at heavyweight,” Peters said. “He’s a really strong guy. He beat a pretty solid guy in [Ernest] James from Edinboro. Zac has the ability to wear guys down and win. The big thing with him is the confidence in wrestling at that weight.”

Redshirt senior Tyler Nauman was the third Panther to win a title with a perfect 4-0 record on the day at 149 pounds. Nauman concluded his day with a 10-3 victory over Kyle Rosser of Lehigh to take the top spot on the podium. Nauman defeated David Habat of Edinboro in the semifinals by a 6-5 score. Habat is another highly touted redshirt freshman for Edinborol who was a four-time Ohio state place-winner in high school.

“Nauman did well for his first time at a new weight,” Peters said. “It’s a little different when you go up a weight class but he wrestled pretty well. He maybe faded a little but in his semi-match, but as you can see, he can still get wins.”

At 157 pounds, redshirt junior Donnie Tasser won three bouts on his way to a second place finish. Tasser defeated Edinboro’s Johnny Greisheimer 3-2 in a semifinal match. Tasser lost by a 12-1 major decision in the finals to Eric Hess of Lehigh.

Redshirt sophomore P.J. Tasser came up just short at 174 pounds, dropping a 3-1 decision in sudden-victory overtime in the finals. Tasser won three bouts during the tournament, including an opening round fall. Tasser also won a 7-4 decision over Edinboro’s Chris Hrunka.

“I’d say that was the best I’ve ever seen P.J. wrestle,” Kocher said. “We were pretty excited afterwards about it. He stepped up for us and wrestled well. He scored points and really wrestled to win.”

Senior Andy Vaughan finished in second place at 184 pounds after two wins put him in the finals against Robert Hamlin of Lehigh. Hamlin defeated Vaughan 9-3 in the finals. Hamlin is a returning All-American who finished as the runner-up at 184 pounds in the NCAA Championships last year.

“Vaughan has been invaluable to us the last couple of years,” Kocher said. “You look at a guy like him as a freshman and you don’t have many expectations, but every year he’s found a way to make it into the lineup because he’s a guy that we can trust. He hadn’t wrestled in practice in something like seven days, and he still goes out and keeps a tight decision to an All-American.”

Three freshman Panthers recorded their first collegiate wins, and all three went on to place in the top eight of their respective weight class.

Both Jordan Shaffer and Ronnie Garbinsky won their first collegiate matches competing at 141 pounds. Shaffer won his first match by a 15-0 technical fall on his way to a fourth-place finish at 141 pounds. Garbinsky began his day with an 11-1 major decision in the opening round. He went on to win three more bouts on his way to a seventh-place finish.

Nick Bonaccorsi won his first match wrestling the 174-pound weight class on his way to a fifth-place finish.

“I think that the young guys did a really good job for us,” Peters said. “You can really lose your focus over the course of the day at these open tournaments. They did a really good job and won some matches, but we even would have liked a few more wins. We learned some areas that they can improve and we’re going to help them work through that.”

Next up for the Panthers on the schedule is two weekend dual meets in eastern Pennsylvania. The Panthers will start with a matchup with Lehigh on Saturday night. The Panthers will follow the Lehigh match with a Sunday showdown at Drexel.

The matchup with Lehigh is especially interesting because the two teams had a chance to scout one another at the Buffalo Open. Lehigh is a perennial power and is currently ranked No. 5 in the nation, while Pitt comes in at No. 17 in the NCAA rankings and No. 15 according to WrestlingReport.com. Individually, Lehigh has five wrestlers ranked in the top eight of their weight class while Pitt has just one, according to InterMat.com.

Key matchups to watch against Lehigh are at the three upper weights. At 184 pounds Lehigh has Robert Hamlin, currently No. 2 in the nation. If sophomore Max Thomusseit is healthy for the Panthers, it would be a challenging matchup for him.

At 197 pounds, Joseph Kennedy and Matt Wilps look to rematch after Wilps’ victory in Buffalo. Kennedy has been ranked as high as No. 8 in the nation at his weight.

At heavyweight, Lehigh has Zach Rey, the returning National Champion. With Zac Thomusseit still getting acclimated to wrestling at heavyweight, the matchup could be a good gauge of where Thomusseit is in his switch to heavyweight.

“Going and wrestling at Lehigh is going to be a good one,” Peters said. “Going into their place, we know that we’ll be wrestling in front of at least 2,000 people against a good team.”