Wrestling: Several Panthers turn in strong performances at Penn State Open

By Mike Furlong

Pitt wrestler Zac Thomusseit has been just short of perfect so far this season.

In the past… Pitt wrestler Zac Thomusseit has been just short of perfect so far this season.

In the past month, the junior has taken the mat 15 times in competition. In those 15 appearances, Thomusseit has gone an impressive 14-1, climbing up to No. 9 in the national rankings for his weight class.

This past Sunday, Thomusseit had his hand raised five more times on his way to the 197-pound championship at the Nittany Lion Open hosted by Penn State.

On his way to the final, Thomusseit took two major decision victories, a fall and a 10-5 decision. In the final, Thomusseit met teammate Matt Wilps in a match which they both forfeited, and both wrestlers became tournament co-champions.

Wilps entered the open as an unattached wrestler, because the junior is on a redshirt season for the Panthers. Wilps, the returning Eastern Wrestling League 197-pound champion, won four matches on his way to the final including two major-decision victories and two decisions.

“Having Thomusseit and Wilps make it to the finals was really good,” head coach Rande Stottlemyer said. “Both guys wrestled hard and won four matches each to get to the finals. Both are co-champs because they wrestle each other every day in our room so there’s not really any sense in wrestling there again.”

A total of six of the 18 Panthers who participated at the open placed. The Panther wrestlers were among more than 300 collegiate wrestlers that participated in the tournament.

“It was a good tournament,” Stottlemyer said. “The level of competition is high at Penn State and our guys had a chance to wrestle a lot of matches.”

At 149 pounds, sophomore Dane Johnson took eighth place after a 5-3 record on the day. Johnson won by fall in the championship bracket before a 3-2 loss to Nestor Taffur of Boston University. In the consolation bracket, Johnson won four straight decisions before dropping another match to Taffur, this time by fall in the third period. Johnson finished the day with a loss to Anthony Salupo of Lehigh in the seventh-place match.

“Dane did all right for us at Penn State,” assistant coach Jason Peters said. “I think we want more from Dane, and I really think Dane wants more from himself. He likes to get first, so he’s working to get there.”

“Dane wrestled a ton of matches out there,” Stottlemyer said. “He lost early, but he definitely fought back hard like a bandit to get on the podium.”

Pitt placed two wrestlers at 174 pounds with redshirt junior Ethan Headlee taking seventh and junior Karl DeCiantis taking eighth.

“In college wrestling it’s tough to build depth,” Peters said. “So it’s really good for us to be able to have two guys place in a weight class.”

Headlee won three matches in the championship bracket, including a fall, a major decision and a 9-2 decision. In his fourth match Headlee lost a 3-1 decision to Alex Caruso of Rutgers. In the consolation bracket, Headlee won another match by fall but then dropped a 5-2 decision to Ryan McGarity of Binghamton. Headlee won the seventh-place match uncontested over DeCiantis.

“Ethan, as the day went on, didn’t do as well,” Peters said. “We think Ethan can be an All-American and a national champion, so he’s disappointed in himself to be wrestling a seventh place match, but we think he’ll get there.”

DeCiantis won his first match of the day by 4-3 decision before a 6-1 defeat at the hands of Scott Giffin of Penn. In the consolations, DeCiantis fought back to meet Headlee in the seventh place match by winning four matches, a fall and three decisions.

The Panthers had two wrestlers win matches at 133 pounds, with freshman Shelton Mack going 3-2 on the day and fellow freshman Erik Galloway going 1-2.

Mack won two matches in the championship bracket with an 8-3 decision and 20-7 major decision. After a loss, Mack picked up another win by score of 8-6 in the consolation before being eliminated by an 8-4 loss.

“Shelton started off pretty good, and he has done a good job this year,” Stottlemyer said. “He’s a walk-on without a lot of experience that has stepped up for us. I tip my hat to him because he really hasn’t backed down at all, and you can see definite improvement.”

At 141 pounds, freshman Mike Tully continued his improvement with two wins at the tournament. Tully won 6-1 and 1-0 decisions in the championship bracket before dropping consecutive matches.

“Mike Tully also has done a good job for us,” Stottlemyer said. “He’s another walk-on that doesn’t have all that much experience. He has handled the pressure and is very coachable.”

At 165 pounds, senior Adam Counterman won three matches on the day, including a 15-1 major decision victory in the championship bracket. Counterman picked up two more wins in the consolations before a 9-3 loss eliminated him.

Up next for the Panthers is a dual-meet showdown with Kent State, Sunday at the Fitzgerald Field House. The matchup will continue the Panthers’ schedule of ranked opponents — Kent State was ranked No. 13 by InterMat.

“Kent State will be a good matchup,” Peters said. “It should be a lot of close matches, and it could very well be an even 5-5 split. But it’s also one of those matches where all the close matchups could go one way. So we really need to be able to win those tough matchups.”

A top matchup will likely be at 197 pounds, with Thomusseit looking to face off against Dustin Kilgore, the top ranked wrestler in that weight class.

“Zac’s got one loss on the year,” Peters said. “Thomusseit has wrestled [Kilgore] before and has come up just short by a point or two. So we think he’s got a good shot to take him down.”