Wrestling: Pitt ready for EWL tournament

By Mike Furlong

The Pitt wrestling team has reached several milestones over the past two years — it earned… The Pitt wrestling team has reached several milestones over the past two years — it earned consecutive dual meet titles over Edinboro, two wrestlers reached the 100-win mark and one became an All-American.

This weekend, it will attempt to add another title to its list — the team will compete in its first Eastern Wrestling League individual tournament, the biggest match-up of the season.

“We want the dual meet title,” redshirt junior Tyler Nauman said several weeks ago. “But we also want the EWL tournament title too because we’ve never had that before.”

The tournament title will not be an easy victory for the Panthers. They will have to arrive in Bloomsburg ready to wrestle at their top level to compete with individuals from Clarion, Cleveland State, West Virginia, Lock Haven, Bloomsburg and Edinboro.

Last season, the Panthers placed second in the individual tournament behind the Edinboro Fighting Scots.

And like last season, the Panthers defeated the Fighting Scots for the dual meet title, so they hope to take that momentum into the individual tournament.

Adding to the excitement is the fact that the Panthers will welcome back junior Zac Thomusseit, still ranked No. 5 in the nation after being sidelined since Dec. 29 with an injury.

“I think it should really be big to get Zac back,” assistant coach Jason Peters said. “It changes a lot of things for us. Zac is the type of guy that can turn a dogfight into an easy win. He’ll really make a difference for us.”

So far this season, the Panthers have proven they have the most complete team, without any real weak point in the lineup. The team stacks up well in the individual tournament as well, as all 10 wrestlers have a legitimate shot at placing in the top-three of their respective weight classes, to qualify for the NCAA Championships in Philadelphia later this month.

“We’d love to get all 10 of our guys to NCAAs in Philadelphia,” head coach Rande Stottlemyer said. “It’s a good conference. It’s not going to be easy but I think we’re in the hunt at every weight class.”

At the lightest weight class, 125 pounds, the Panthers have a title contender in sophomore Anthony Zanetta. Zanetta won the tournament as a freshman at the same weight class. His road to Philadelphia will likely go through Shane Young of West Virginia. Zanetta defeated Young 5-3 earlier in the year.

Other top competitors are Sean Boylan of Bloomsburg and Nick Hyatt of Lock Haven.

“Zanetta isn’t defending anything,” Stottlemyer said. “He’s in the hunt for that title. Sometimes it’s hard to be a sophomore. We really think that Zanetta has figured out how to be in that role.”

At 133 pounds, freshman Shelton Mack hopes to make his first EWL tournament a memorable one. Other top wrestlers at his weight are John Trumbetti of Lock Haven, Eric Morrill of Edinboro, and Nate Pennesi of West Virginia. Trumbetti won the 133 pound class last year.

“Shelton is a guy that never won a match at the PIAA state tournament when he was in high school,” Stottlemyer said, referring to Pennsylvania’s high school league. “He’s in the hunt now, and we hope that he can make a run.”

At 141 pounds, the Panthers have Nauman poised to win his third consecutive EWL title at that weight. Nauman enters ranked No.8 in the nation in his weight class.

At 165 pounds, redshirt junior Ethan Headlee hopes to make his first run at an EWL title. Headlee’s experience could very well set him apart from the competition after an up-and-down season at two different weight classes. Headlee is second on the team with 24 wins on the season. Headlee has lost two matches in the EWL by only one point each to Donald Jones of West Virginia and Rob Michels of Cleveland State.

“Ethan is a veteran,” Stottlemyer said. “He knows what it’s all about. I have a lot of confidence in Ethan.”

At 174 pounds, the Panthers had to make a decision about who was going to get the nod to wrestle. The coaching staff selected junior Karl DeCiantis to wrestle at the tournament after Headlee, Andy Vaughan and Adam Counterman also wrestled matches at 174 pounds.

“We decided to go with Karl DeCiantis,” Stottlemyer said. “He can be a dangerous guy. He’s only wrestled 12 matches this season but we thought he deserved the opportunity. I’m sure he’s excited and ready to go.”

At 197, pounds Thomusseit will return to the lineup in the hunt for the title. Thomusseit was the tournament champion at 184 pounds last season. Top competitors with Thomusseit will be Shawn Fendone of Edinboro and West Virginia’s Kyle Rooney. During the season, senior fill-in Phil Sorrentino dropped a tough 1-0 match to Fendone. Rooney wrestled at heavyweight and was pinned during the season against the Panthers.

“Zac is back in the lineup and we’re happy to have him back,” Stottlemyer said. He’s a top-10 guy so it means a lot. Phil [Sorrentino] did a great job filling in. He created momentum for us. The bottom line is that Thomusseit can get his hand raised. He’s definitely anxious to be back and ready to go.”

At heavyweight, Tomei looks to repeat as tournament champion after winning by fall in the finals last season on his way to being named the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler.

“Ryan will be at it,” Stottlemyer said. “He’s a very consistent guy so we hope to see big things out of him.”

Tomei thinks he is ready to make another run at the heavyweight title this time around as well.

“You know right now I feel the best I’ve felt since I’ve been here,” Tomei said. “I have no soreness and no pain. It feels good to come in and workout. I feel ready to go.”

Every Panther in the lineup will have a chance to place in the top-three at the tournament to qualify for a bid to NCAA’s.

“We embrace the process,” Stottlemyer said. “Nothing changes now. We do it all year. This is the reason we work year-round for this chance. We know we have the opportunity to get it. You get good results when you put in the work.”