Wrestling: Panthers to “Fill the Fitz”

By Mike Furlong

he Backyard Brawl usually evokes images of the Pitt Panthers taking the gridiron against the… The Backyard Brawl usually evokes images of the Pitt Panthers taking the gridiron against the West Virginia Mountaineers, but Friday night, the rivalry will move to the mats for a wrestling match being promoted by the athletic department as “Fill the Fitz.”

Fans are encouraged to wear navy blue in hopes of a “blue out” for the 7 p.m. match at Fitzgerald Field House.

Pitt marketing and promotions assistant Sean Callahan-Dinish said “Fill the Fitz” is a student-focused promotion.

“We’re going to be having free rally towels for the first 300 people, OCC credit and a free burrito toss,” he said.

Callahan-Dinish expects the best turnout of the season.

“We’re looking at probably 900 to 1,000 people at least,” he said. “We have the band coming up as well as a student spirit contest through SORC registered groups, and so far we have nine organizations committed to be there.”

Callahan-Dinish said the turnout for home matches is usually around 450 people.

Panthers assistant coach Jason Peters believes that the promotion and attendance could create an exciting atmosphere for the match.

“It’s always good to get a lot of fan support,” Peters said. “You know, we’ve wrestled in front of more people in the past, but it should be exciting to get a good crowd behind the team for the match.”

He added that no matter what the sport, an event featuring Pitt against West Virginia gets people excited.

“We’ll try not to look too much into the rivalry and let the results speak for us, but it should be exciting,” he said.

The No. 23 Panthers (9-6, 2-0 EWL) are fighting the Mountaineers for the lead in the Eastern Wrestling Conference after West Virginia (7-4, 3-0 EWL) bested Clarion, Lock Haven and Bloomsburg. The Panthers defeated Bloomsburg and Lock Haven in their first two conference matches.

Pitt leads the all-time series with West Virginia 31-22-2.

Last season, the Panthers walked out of Morgantown with a 19-15 victory. The matchup was split with five victories for each team. Bonus points earned on a fall by now-redshirt junior Tyler Nauman and a major decision by junior Zac Thomusseit proved the deciding factor.

The Mountaineers lineup is stacked at the lower weights with Shane Young wrestling at 125 pounds and Nathan Pennesi at 133 pounds. Young, favored to win the EWL individual title this year, is currently 23-6. He should have a tough rematch with sophomore Anthony Zanetta. Zanetta defeated Young 5-4 last season in the dual meet and 4-2 at the EWL tournament.

“Zanetta has beaten [Young] twice in college,” Peters said. “Young is a great competitor, but we think that Zanetta can win again.”

After last weekend’s match with Bloomsburg, Zanetta is looking forward to the matchup with WVU.

“Anytime you wrestle West Virginia it’s going to be fun,” Zanetta said. “It’s going to be a great crowd and a great time. You get pumped up for those types of matches. I think that’s when everyone wrestles their best.”

At 133 pounds, Pennesi is a redshirt freshman and is currently the top-ranked wrestler for WVU according to InterMat, coming in at No. 15. Freshman Shelton Mack, who picked up a big 6-4 victory last Sunday against Bloomsburg,  will face Pennesi.

“Shelton Mack has wrestled tough this season,” Peters said. “He’s already beaten some guys he wasn’t expected to beat, so we’ll see what he can do.”

Another member of the Mountaineers lineup to watch for is redshirt senior Brandon Rader, wrestling at 149 pounds. Rader was an All-American in 2006 and 2007 before injuries kept him out of the lineup. Rader has returned for his final year of eligibility and could give sophomore Dane Johnson a tough match.

The Panthers enter Friday night with four wrestlers ranked in the top 20.

Redshirt senior Ryan Tomei is ranked No. 7 at heavyweight after winning his 100th career match on Sunday. Tomei is currently 21-4 on the season.

At 141 pounds, Nauman comes in at No. 7. Nauman also reached the 100-win milestone recently and is currently 17-3 on the year.

Zac Thomusseit is No. 8 at 197 pounds. Thomusseit has been sidelined as of late with an unspecified injury. If Thomusseit returns, he will be a huge addition to the Panthers lineup.

Freshman Max Thomusseit comes in at No. 20 at 184 pounds after compiling a 21-9 record so far in his rookie campaign.

“Max has done a remarkable job,” Pitt head coach Rande Stottlemyer said after the win against Bloomsburg. “He has worked hard and has really put himself into a good position.”

Peters agreed with Stottlemyer on the younger Thomusseit’s outlook so far.

“Max has wrestled really tough for us this season,” Peters said. “We really hope his work pays off and that at the end of the season he will be a true freshman All-American.”

This matchup could very well be a tight one, with major implications for the EWL championship. Every bout is a must-win for both sides, and any bonus points earned could turn the tide in either direction.

“Obviously we hope we can get a sixth or seventh win,” Peters said. “But West Virginia has a good team, and it could come down to a 5-5 split with bonus points making a difference.”