Wrestling: Panthers fall short at NCAA Championships

By Mike Furlong

The Pitt wrestling team concluded its stellar season with a disappointing finish at the NCAA… The Pitt wrestling team concluded its stellar season with a disappointing finish at the NCAA Championships in Philadelphia over the weekend.

The Panthers, with eight national qualifiers — the most in Pitt history since the 1950s — were unable to finish with an NCAA All-American in a season that saw them win their conference regular season and tournament championship.

“I think obviously we came back disappointed,” assistant coach Jason Peters said of the team’s 34th place finish amongst the 73 teams. “We wanted to have some All-Americans. With all the time that has gone into this year, we didn’t get the results that we wanted. If I said that we were anything more than disappointed, I’d be lying. We think so highly of our guys that we expected to have better results.”

The Panthers won their first bout  at 125 pounds when sophomore Anthony Zanetta defeated No. 10 Alan Waters of Missouri by a 7-2 score. Zanetta was pinned in his second bout by No. 7 Ryan Mango of Stanford before being eliminated on a loss to Sean Boyle of Michigan.

At 141 pounds, redshirt junior and returning All-American Tyler Nauman won his first bout of the day over Josh Kindig of Oklahoma State. In the second round, Nauman lost by decision to No. 10 ranked Todd Schavrien of Missouri. Nauman, ranked No. 7, was then eliminated after falling to Stephen Dutton of Lehigh in the consolation round.

Redshirt freshman Dane Johnson made his first trip to the NCAA Championships. At 149 pounds, Johnson fell in consecutive bouts to the eventual 3rd and 6th place finishers, including an overtime loss to Andrew Nadhir of Northwestern.

At 157 pounds, redshirt sophomore Donnie Tasser won a bout in the consolations over Matt Cathell of Kent State before being eliminated.

“It was a positive thing having guys like Dane Johnson, Donnie Tasser and Max Thomusseit make it to their first nationals,” Peters said. “These young guys stepped up and made it to the next level.”

Freshman Max Thomusseit won his first bout in his first trip to the NCAA Championships. Thomusseit defeated Erich Schmidtke of Oklahoma to open the tournament. His run ended when he dropped a tight 6-5 decision to Matt Ryan of West Virginia.

Also at 184 pounds, Eastern Wrestling League foe Chris Honeycutt lost his first bout of the season. Honeycutt had been the No. 1-ranked wrestler for much of the season. Honeycutt fell to Quentin Wright of Penn State, the eventual national champion. Wright defeated fellow Pennsylvania grappler Robert Hamlin of Lehigh for the title.

At 197 pounds, junior Zac Thomusseit won two consecutive bouts in the first two rounds of the tournament. Thomusseit, entering as the No. 7-ranked wrestler, defeated both Matt Casperson of Boise State and No. 10 Logan Brown of Purdue.

Thomusseit fell to the eventual national runner-up Clayton Foster of Oklahoma State in the quarterfinals. Thomusseit was eliminated on a 2-0 defeat to Sonny Yohn of Minnesota.

“I think overall for Zac you have to see his tournament as somewhat of a success,” Peters said. “I know his goal was a National Championship, but for a guy to sit out most of the season and come in and make it to one match short of placing, it’s kind of good considering the circumstances.”

Redshirt senior heavyweight Ryan Tomei lost his opening bout to Brendan Barlow of Kent State, as Tomei could not outlast Barlow in overtime. In the consolations, the No. 6-ranked Tomei won two bouts before being eliminated on a 10-3 loss to Tony Nelson of Minnesota.

“I think that it’s really challenging sometimes for seniors,” Peters said. “The moment grasped Ryan, and he didn’t put himself in great positions. I feel bad for the guy, I know he put the effort in; just sometimes the outcome doesn’t match the work.”

“But you know great things come from failure. Ryan will have the opportunity to go on and compete again if that’s what he chooses,” Peters said. “And if he doesn’t, he can have a successful life without wrestling.”

The tournament was dominated by Pennsylvania wrestlers, as Penn State won the team title for the first time since 1953, with Cornell and Iowa both trailing by more than 20 points.

“I think that it definitely says something about Pennsylvania wrestling,” Peters said. “Our program is getting better. You see the same thing at Penn State and the other state schools. This state has the most All-Americans, and I think it will keep going that way as long as we’re all improving.”

One of the most sports-embodying moments to see at the tournament was Arizona State’s Anthony Robles dominating the 125-pound weight class on his way to a National Championship. Robles’ 36-0 record this season stands apart from that of his competitors, especially because he only has one leg and doesn’t use a prosthetic. That’s right, Robles was born without his right leg. But at least 36 opponents would probably agree that does not hold back Robles on the mat.

Although the Panthers squad might have fallen short of its goal of a top-10 finish, their regualar season accomplishments speak loudly. . This season, the Panthers won their second consecutive EWL team title as well as the EWL individual tournament. The Panthers have not lost a conference match in the past two seasons.

“I think all of the guys wanted more,” Peters said. “Seeing the adversity can help them. I think that the bitter taste will be the fuel going forward.”

“When you qualify for the NCAA Wrestling Championships, you’re amongst the top 33 grapplers in the nation,” Pitt spokesman Jon Brennan wrote from a mat-side seat at NCAA’s. “Simply getting here is an amazing accomplishment within itself. With that being said, no matter how you fare at this tournament, you should walk out with your head held high.”

Tomei departs the program after battling hard in every bout. He graduates with 109 wins in his career, including 40 falls, good enough for second all-time in Panthers history.

Another thing to look ahead to for the Panthers is the return of Matt Wilps. Wilps redshirted this past season after winning the 197-pound weight class in the EWL in 2010. Look for Wilps or the older Thomusseit to add on a few pounds to wrestle at heavyweight next season.

With the return of Wilps, the Panthers will have eight returning national qualifiers. Wilps traveled to the NCAA Championships in 2010.

“You know we don’t have another heavyweight on the roster,” head coach Rande Stottlemyer said several weeks ago. “With Matt Wilps coming off his redshirt and with both of the Thomusseit brothers, we have to find a place for all of these guys to wrestle. We’ll see how it plays out going into the future.”

Editor’s Note: Donnie Tasser is a staff writer for The Pitt News.