Wrestling: Pitt wins second straight EWL Championship

By Mike Furlong

It took all 10 bouts to decide the match, but the Pitt wrestling team was able to secure its… It took all 10 bouts to decide the match, but the Pitt wrestling team was able to secure its second consecutive Eastern Wrestling League Championship Friday night at Edinboro University.

“The guys did a good job,” Pitt head coach Rande Stottlemyer said. “We definitely earned that win. You know last year was so special to get the title in our own gym, but it was special to go to their place, too.”

Redshirt senior Ryan Tomei said the Panthers wrestled well.

“We were really hyped up about the match,” he said. “We wrestled a good match. There were maybe a few bouts I thought that we could have won. But you know, we were able to win [the match].”

Redshirt junior Ethan Headlee agreed about the team’s performance. Headlee added that he was excited to be a part of the championship after watching last year during his redshirt season.

“It felt really good to actually be a part of the championship this year,” Headlee said. “A lot of people were coming up to me after the match to ask that question and it really did feel nice to be a part of something this season.”

The match was an even split with both the Panthers and Fighting Scots winning five bouts each. But in the end, Pitt outscored Edinboro 19-16 by earning four bonus points to Edinboro’s one.

“We’ve had a lot of these 5-5 splits,” Stottlemyer said. “But it does mean something that we can win a lot of these matches on bonus points. The guys have been able to do what they need to do to win.”

Sophomore Anthony Zanetta got the match started with a Panther victory. Zanetta picked up a fall just 18 seconds into the second period. The victory made the difference in the team score as Zanetta earned three bonus points for pinning Bijan Banks..

“We needed to get a good start so we needed a lot of points out of Zanetta,” Stottlemyer said. “You know the guy he was wrestling hasn’t had a great year, so it was a lot of pressure for him to get a pin.”

The Panthers won their next bout at 141 pounds when redshirt junior Tyler Nauman picked up a 1-0 decision over Kasey Davis bringing the score to 9-3 in favor of the Panthers. Nauman, now ranked No. 8 in the nation by Intermat, a leading national amateur wrestling website., improved to 21-3 on the season.

“We were kind of hoping Tyler would be able to get on top of his guy and maybe pick up some bonus points,” Stottlemyer said. “But you know that guy was a great athlete, and Tyler never got a chance to take him down and get on top. The important thing is Tyler found a way to win; that’s what he’s been good at.”

At 149 pounds, the Fighting Scots narrowed the lead to 9-6 when No. 18-ranked Torsten Gillespie defeated the Panthers’ Dane Johnson 8-7 on a late takedown. Johnson led the match 6-2 entering the third period but could not hold off the returning All-American.

The Panthers fought back again at 157 pounds when redshirt sophomore Donnie Tasser picked up a 7-5 decision over Johnny Greisheimer. Tasser scored a duck-under takedown with 30 seconds left in the match, cut his opponent to allow him to escape and scored another duck-under to take the lead. A duck-under is when a wrestler places his head under his opponent’s arm in order to get in a position to take him down.

“That match at 157 [pounds] really might be the turning point for us,” Stottlemyer said. “Donnie was down by a point and was able to get two takedowns in the last 30 seconds. And those duck-unders, they are some of the nicest you could ever ask to see.”

At 165 pounds, Headlee gave Pitt its biggest lead of the night after a 10-1 major decision victory. A major decision victory occurs when a wrestler wins by at least eight points, but doesn’t reach the 15 point margin needed for a techical fall. Pitt was awarded one bonus point for the major decision. The win gave the Panthers a 16-6 lead. Headlee scored three takedowns and a set of near fall points on his way to the victory.

“I really felt like I needed to get some bonus points,” Headlee said. “I think I went out there and wrestled a pretty tough match. I was hoping to get a pin but the major decision was pretty nice.”

The Fighting Scots pulled the match to an even 16-16 tie after winning the next three bouts.

Edinboro scored its one bonus point on an 11-2 major decision victory scored by Chris Honeycutt. Honeycutt, the nation’s top-ranked wrestler at 184 pounds, defeated freshman Max Thomusseit to improve to 24-0 on the season.

Tomei said he had a lot of confidence in Thomusseit.

“I thought he’d have a shot to win the match,” Tomei said. “Max wrestled well, but I know he could have done a little better. Honeycutt is a good wrestler, but Max and him have the same style: They’re both big, strong kids. It really comes down to Honeycutt having a lot more experience on Max.”

Pitt’s Phil Sorrentino dropped a tight 1-0 match to fellow senior Shawn Fendone at 197 pounds. The bout brought the score to the 16-16 tie with only the heavyweight bout remaining.

“Phil’s a real fighter,” Stottlemyer said. “You know, Phil doesn’t win that match, but he’s really a guy that creates energy when he goes out there. He made the match into a street fight and that really creates momentum for the guys.”

As he took to the mat for the final match, Tomei said he felt very comfortable in the pressure-filled position.

“I felt the same way that I always do; I knew I had to win the match for the team.” Tomei said. “I set myself at a higher standard, not to take anything away from EWL heavyweights, but I’ve wrestled against better guys, so I know I can go out there and control the match.”

In the final dual meet of his collegiate career, Tomei faced redshirt freshman Ernest James. Tomei scored a 3-0 decision over James to earn the Panthers their second consecutive title. Tomei’s victory was his 103rd of his career.

Stottlemyer said Tomei, an experienced wrestler, performed well.

“You know his guy is a pretty good wrestler,” Stottlemyer said. “There was no takedown in the first period but Ryan rode him on top in the second … You know it’s one of those matches where the score seems close, but he controlled the match.”

After the victory Stottlemyer praised assistant coaches Jason Peters and Matt Kocher.

“The staff has done a great job,” Stottlemyer said. “We were well-prepared, the team has really bought into it. It’s hard to not give a lot of credit to these guys.”

Looking ahead, the Panthers have the EWL individual championship on March 6 at Bloomsburg University. Pitt hopes to win the conference tournament for the first time in team history.

“I think the goal for us is to win the tournament,” Tomei said. “We’ve never won the EWL tournament, so that’s been a goal for us and I think it’s our year to do it. I know for me I want to see us qualify all 10 wrestlers for Nationals, and I think that’s something that we have a chance to do.”

After the EWL tournament the Panthers have the NCAA Championships in Philadelphia beginning on March 17. For an individual to qualify for Nationals, he must place in the top four at the EWL tournament or apply for an at-large bid.

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