Wrestling: Panthers look to repeat as EWL champs with win over Edinboro

By Mike Furlong

It’s hard to imagine that before last season the Panthers wrestling squad had never won an… It’s hard to imagine that before last season the Panthers wrestling squad had never won an Eastern Wrestling League Championship.

On Friday at 7 p.m., the Panthers have the opportunity to solidify their second consecutive championship. But to guarantee the title, the Panthers need to take down their league foe: the Edinboro Fighting Scots. The Fighting Scots will have to defeat both Pitt and West Virginia to win the crown.

“It should be an exciting match for us.” assistant coach Jason Peters said. “Anytime you wrestle against a team with such good competition, it will be exciting. We have tried to prepare the same way that we always do. We’ll let the outcome take care of itself — we just need to come out aggressive.”

The Panthers (12-6, 5-0 EWL) have to travel to take on the Fighting Scots (8-9-1, 3-1 EWL). The Scots have been title contenders in recent years, winning the team title in every season from 2004-09.

“I’m pretty excited about the match.” redshirt junior Ethan Headlee said. “It was difficult for me last season to have to sit out as a redshirt from the match, so it feels good to be able to be a part of the team this time around.”

Redshirt junior Tyler Nauman has been looking ahead to the match with Edinboro since the Panthers’ victory over West Virginia. Nauman motioned up to the 2009-10 EWL Championship banner in the Fitzgerald Field House and explained that the Panthers want a matching one for this season.

“Edinboro is always a tough match — it’s not quite as big a rivalry as West Virginia, but we always want to beat them,” Nauman said. “Everyone says they’re having a down year, but I know they want to try and beat us.”

Last season, the Panthers captured the team title against Edinboro in front of a home crowd at the Fitzgerald Field House by a score of 21-13.

The Panthers enter the showdown with Edinboro after having won two dual meets last Thursday night over Clarion and at home on Friday night over Cleveland State. The Panthers dominated Clarion with a final score of 32-9 and dismantled Cleveland State by a score of 41-3 on Senior Night.

“I think we performed particularly well last week,” Peters said. “We’re definitely competing at a high level and we’re picking up a lot of bonus points.”

Against Clarion, freshman Max Thomusseit picked up his 24th victory of the season, tying the team lead. Redshirt senior Ryan Tomei notched another pin in his belt, taking him to 38 career falls — five short of the Panthers record of 43 set by Pat Santoro. Redshirt junior Tyler Nauman also raised his season record to 20-3.

“Lately, I feel like we’ve been wrestling very well,” Headlee said. “We’ve beaten some really good teams and wrestled a lot of top competition. All of that has made these conference matches a lot easier for us as a team.”

Plenty of the team’s success is due to the graduating seniors. On Friday night, the Panthers introduced four senior wrestlers to honor their contributions to the program. Christian Fagan, Kyle Patton, Adam Counterman and Tomei all walked onto the Fitzgerald Field House mat for the final time in their careers. Also introduced was senior manager Liz Rice.

“You know having something like that really brings out mixed emotions,” Peters said. “It’s happy to see these guys that came in as freshman grow and mature while they were here, but with all the time we spend together it’s a little tough to see these guys go.”

Looking ahead

In the match with Cleveland State, the Panthers picked up victories in nine of 10 bouts on their way to the team win.

The only loss for the Panthers was Headlee at 165 pounds. Headlee looks to bounce back from the match after some discussions with older brother Drew Headlee a three-time EWL champion and 2005 All-American at Pitt.

“I have been talking to Drew a lot after the match last week,” Headlee said. “He has been helping me a lot to refocus to make a run at the rest of the season. A big goal for me is looking ahead to EWL Individuals and the NCAA Championships.”

The Fighting Scots currently have five wrestlers ranked in the nation in their weight class.

At 184 pounds, junior Chris Honeycutt is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation after rolling to a 22-0 record this season.

Max Thomusseit hopes to be the first wrestler this season to best Honeycutt.

“It’s always exciting to see a freshman match up with a top-ranked guy,” Peters said. “I think it should really help in his development. You know, Max’s older brother Zac has had the opportunity to wrestle the No. 1-ranked guy a few times now, and it’s helped with his wrestling, so we hope it will do the same for Max.”

Torsten Gillespie is ranked No. 18 at the 149-pound weight class. Gillespie is a returning All-American after taking sixth place last season at the NCAA championships. Last season Gillespie lost a hard-fought bout in the championship to now-graduated Eric Albright.

“I think we match up well with Edinboro,” Headlee said. “They have some ranked guys, but at the same time there are a couple spots where we can pick up some bonus points. I feel like I am one of those guys that needs to go out there and score some bonus points.”