Wrestling: Panthers win EWL tournament, prepare for NCAA’s

By Mike Furlong

It’s been a year full of milestones for the Panthers wrestling team, a list that got even… It’s been a year full of milestones for the Panthers wrestling team, a list that got even longer over spring break.

The Panthers pulled in their first Eastern Wrestling League individual tournament championship to cap an impressive year in league wrestling that saw them win the regular season title as well.

Six Panthers wrestlers won their weight class en route to 132.5 team points, topping second-place West Virginia by 16 points.

“We did a pretty good job,” Pitt head coach Rande Stottlemyer said. “We put seven guys in the finals. Six of them were able to win. We also were able to win our bouts against West Virginia, our closest competition.”

Redshirt senior Ryan Tomei highlighted the day for the Panthers by winning his second consecutive title as well as being named the tournament’s Co-Outstanding Wrestler along with Clarion’s James Fleming. Tomei also won the award in last season’s EWL tournament.

At the heavyweight class, Tomei picked up an 8-2 victory in the finals over Bloomsburg’s Zac Walsh.

“Tomei really does a pretty good job at what he does,” Stottlemyer said. “It’s one of those things that is a nice honor, but I know he’s looking forward to the next thing, which is the NCAAs. He’s looking to right the ship after not having the best experience there last season.”

Possibly the biggest tournament surprise was redshirt freshman Dane Johnson, who won the tournament at 149 pounds. Johnson defeated two returning All-Americans on his way to his first tournament title.

“There’s no two ways about it, Dane had an exceptional day,” Stottlemyer said. “He beat two guys that he has lost to before that are both All-Americans. You really could argue for Dane to be the tournament OW [Outstanding Wrestler].”

In the semifinals, Johnson won a 5-3 decision over Torsten Gillespie of Edinboro, a 5th-place finisher at the NCAA championships last season as well as a three-time national qualifier.

In the championship bout, Johnson defeated redshirt senior Brandon Rader of West Virginia by a 3-1 score. Rader is a two-time All-American who placed sixth in the NCAAs in 2006 and 2007.

The tournament was a welcome-back performance for junior Zac Thomusseit, who sat out for much of the season with a knee injury. Thomusseit, who is still ranked No. 5 in the nation at 197 pounds, won all three of his matches on his way to his second consecutive EWL title.

“It was nice to get back on the mat,” Thomusseit said. “I had never been out that long in my career. To be able to get back and compete was great. I felt like my knee was close to 100 percent. It was just my conditioning that wasn’t quite there yet.

Redshirt junior Tyler Nauman won his third EWL title after a dominating 16-0 technical fall victory in the semifinals, followed by a 6-4 victory over Matt Bonson of Lock Haven in the championship bout.

At 165 pounds, redshirt junior Ethan Headlee won his first EWL title after a 6-0 championship victory over Donnie Jones of West Virginia.

Overall, the Panthers placed nine of 10 wrestlers in the top four at the tournament.

The Panthers had seven wrestlers earn automatic bids to the NCAA championships to be held in Philadelphia beginning Thursday.

Anthony Zanetta earned an automatic bid and will wrestle against No. 10 Alan Waters of Missouri in the opening round.

Nauman will go to the NCAA championships for the third time and will take on Josh Kindig of Oklahoma State to open the tournament. Kindig is a two-time Pennsylvania state champion who wrestled for Blue Mountain High School.

“I don’t really know too much about [Kindig],” Stottlemyer said. “I do know that Tyler is looking forward to the match. The two of them only live about an hour away from each other, but they have never trained together or anything like that.”

Johnson will make his first NCAA Championship appearance and will take on No. 6 Jason Chamberlain of Boise State in the first round.

“This season, Dane had a lot of close one-point losses,” assistant coach Jason Peters said. “I think after last weekend he has finally gotten over the hump. I think he’ll give guys at NCAAs a lot of trouble.”

Thomusseit will return to the NCAA championships for the second time after winning two bouts last season. Thomusseit will wrestle Matt Casperson of Boise State in the first round. Casperson fell to the Panthers’ Matt Wilps last season by a 5-4 score.

“My goal is to win a national title,” Thomusseit said. “If I fall short of my goal, I will still have the opportunity to be an All-American; if I set my goal short to just be an All-American, if I fall short … I’ll have nothing.”

Tomei will also make his second appearance and will take on Brendan Barlow of Kent State in the opening round. Tomei defeated Barlow 6-5 in a dual meet earlier this season.

“At this point, we expect Ryan to win every match,” Peters said a few weeks ago. “I think he will be an All-American, but our goal is for him to be the national champion.”

On top of the 282 national wrestlers to earn automatic bids, 48 wrestlers had the opportunity to be selected for an at-large bid.

Overall, the Panthers hope to carve out a spot in the tournament as a premier wrestling program.

“This is going to be the craziest tournament that you’ll see,” Stottlemyer said. “Every round is going to be tough with a lot of upsets. Hopefully we are one of those teams ahead of the curve that’s going to win some. These guys have been looking forward to it all year.”