Wrestling: Team reacts to Pitt’s move to ACC

By Mike Furlong

The Pitt squad with the most to gain from the University’s move to the Atlantic Coast… The Pitt squad with the most to gain from the University’s move to the Atlantic Coast Conference might be the Panther wrestling team.

Junior Anthony Zanetta said the  higher-level competition in the ACC will help the team prepare for future NCAA Championships.

Wrestling will not be moving from the Big East — the team is not currently a member of the conference. In fact, in the ACC it will regularly compete against most of the same teams as other sports for the first time in forty years. Since 1976, Pitt’s wrestling program has competed in the Eastern Wrestling League, which contains schools whose principal conferences don’t sponsor wrestling.

But while the Big East doesn’t sponsor wrestling as an NCAA-qualifying event, the ACC does.

“EWL is a good conference, but the ACC is pretty much a step up,” Zanetta said. “It could help us build the fan base and the recruiting classes.”

Last season, Rutgers finished the highest (No. 9) in the national rankings for the ACC, while Pitt finished the highest for the EWL (No. 22).

Wrestling head coach Rande Stottlemyer agreed that the ACC is a good fit for Pitt, though he said that the move surprised him.

The EWL has gone through several additions and subtractions, so this will not be the first time that a team has left the conference. Penn State moved on to the Big Ten in 1992 and Virginia Tech joined in 1999 before departing again in 2004 for the ACC.

“It’s been a great run for us in the EWL,” Stottlemyer said. “We’ve been in the conference for a long time. I wrestled in the first EWL tournament so I have an affinity for the EWL.”

The seven-team EWL has been a three-team race since 1995, as only Pitt, West Virginia and Edinboro have won dual-meet titles.

In the EWL, Pitt competes against West Virginia, Edinboro, Bloomsburg, Clarion, Cleveland State and Lock Haven. In the ACC, the Panthers will match up with Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Maryland, North Carolina State and Duke. Maryland has won the ACC team title in three of the last four seasons.

“The teams in the ACC are like us,” Stottlemyer said. “We’ve been outside of the box for some time. The EWL has been a great league with numerous national champions and All-Americans, but for us it’s a good fit to be in the ACC.”

When the Panthers begin wrestling with ACC schools, they are sure to see some familiar faces as ACC schools tend to recruit from Pennsylvania. Only two of the athletes on Pitt’s 29-person roster aren’t from Pennsylvania.

“The programs in the ACC have some good wrestlers.” Stottlemyer said. “They recruit in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland and the Carolinas. Wrestling across the country is improving scholastically, but they pick up a lot of the really good wrestlers in Pennsylvania.”

For Pitt, the ability to recruit wrestlers to compete in a league that is solely made up of Division I programs can definitely make a difference, especially when the Panthers have to compete with ACC teams and defending national champion Penn State for recruits.

For many of the EWL schools, wrestling is the only Division I sport.

“I think there is a connect there if you mention the ACC to people.” Stottlemyer said. “They have a good reputation in a lot of sports, and I think wrestling is one of the sports that can carry that flag.”

Currently, the Big East is holding Pitt to a 27-month waiting period before it can switch conferences.

If this holds true, wrestling would be forced to wait until the 2014 season to compete in the ACC.

“I feel the sooner the better,” Stottlemyer said. “I don’t know how exactly this is going to work. But I have faith in [Chancellor] Mark Nordenberg, he’s a tremendous leader. Obviously with [Athletic Director] Steve [Pederson]’s input they will figure it out. The longer we wait, we’ll be put in limbo. So the sooner we get in there, I think it’s the better.”

Redshirt junior Matt Wilps agreed that the time frame for the entrance to the ACC causes concen.

“Nobody really seems to know when that may occur,” Wilps said. “Chances are I won’t be here for it, but it’s a step up for the program.”

However, one major factor in the conference switch is the possible loss of rivalry matches with teams such as West Virginia and Edinboro.

With a new schedule, it will be difficult to maintain rivalries with non-conference opponents.

“I love those matchups with teams like WVU and Edinboro,” Zanetta said. “That’s the beauty of wrestling sometimes, it’s an adrenaline rush when you wrestle guys that you don’t like that much. It’s a long process. It may take years to build new rivals, but it may be good to keep some of those rivals especially since they’re so close to Pittsburgh. “