Pitt wrestling finds success, disappointment on first day of NCAA tournament


(Ian Maule/Tulsa World via AP)

Lehigh’s Tate Samuelson turns Pittsburgh’s Reece Heller during day one of the NCAA Wrestling Championships 2023 at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. on Thursday, March 16, 2023.

By Brian Sherry, Assistant Sports Editor

Pitt wrestling had a historically successful season. The Panthers clinched a share of the ACC regular season dual title, with a 4-1 ACC record. Two wrestlers — redshirt seniors Cole Matthews and Nino Bonaccorsi — also took home individual ACC titles at their respective weight classes.

But Pitt’s historic season can get even better with a strong showing at the NCAA tournament.

The Panthers traveled to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to face off against the best wrestlers in the nation. The tournament just started and will continue all weekend, but the Panthers have already experienced success and disappointments on their first day in Tulsa. 

Redshirt senior Micky Phillippi kicked things off for the Panthers at 133 pounds. The No. 9 seed defeated redshirt first-year Wyatt Henson 5-2 in the first round. But Phillippi’s hopes for an NCAA title ended in the next round, as he was pinned by Minnesota redshirt first-year Aaron Nagao.

But Phillippi will still have a shot at a podium finish in Tulsa. The redshirt senior will face off against junior Brody Teske of Iowa on Friday in the second round of consolation matches.

Pitt’s two ACC champions — Matthews and Bonaccorsi — are building off their conference tournament success. Matthews — the No. 3 seed at 141 pounds — began the tournament with a 4-1 victory over cross-state rival Clarion senior Seth Koleno. But Matthews’ next match proved challenging, as he narrowly avoided an upset by defeating No. 11 seed sophomore Cael Happel of Northern Iowa 1-0. 

And Matthews’ road to the NCAA finals does not get any easier from here. The redshirt senior is set to face off against No. 6 seed junior Beau Bartlett of Penn State in the quarterfinals. Bartlett finished third in the Big Ten championship and finished the season with a 23-2 record.

Meanwhile, Bonaccorsi — the No. 1 seed at 197 pounds — faced little resistance on his way to the quarterfinals. The 197-pound wrestler dominated his first match, earning a 10-1 major decision over North Carolina redshirt sophomore Max Shaw. Bonaccorsi wrapped up day one with an 8-2 victory over junior Owen Pentz of North Dakota State.

But Bonaccorsi also has a tough match awaiting him in the quarterfinals. The redshirt senior is set to face No. 8 seed redshirt sophomore Silas Allred of Nebraska. Allred cruised into the quarterfinals, winning his first two matches 13-7 and 7-2, respectively. This is a must-win match for Pitt, as the No. 1 seed Bonaccorsi is the Panthers’ top wrestler. 

Pitt’s other wrestlers did not fare as well as Bonaccorsi and Matthews, however. At 165 pounds, redshirt senior Holden Heller picked up a major win for Pitt, earning a 5-3 victory over redshirt first-year Alex Facundo from cross-state rival Penn State.

But Heller couldn’t continue the momentum from his massive first-round victory. The redshirt senior fell to No. 29 seed junior Caleb Fish of Michigan State. Still, Heller has a shot at the podium, but he must defeat West Virginia junior Peyton Hall in the second consolation round to stay alive in the double-elimination tournament. 

The Panthers faced disappointment at 174 pounds, as redshirt first-year Luca Augustine was knocked out of the tournament following two straight losses. The redshirt first-year dropped his first match to Oklahoma State junior Dustin Plott. With his season on the line, Augustine failed to stay in the tournament, losing 3-1 to Columbia junior Lennox Wolak.

Redshirt junior Reece Heller — Holden Heller’s brother — fared much better in the consolation round than Augustine. Heller dropped his first match, but stayed alive in the consolation bracket by defeating West Virginia redshirt junior Anthony Carman 11-4.

In the team standings, Pitt is failing to meet expectations. The Panthers are currently in 25th place, behind teams like North Carolina and Lehigh. Coming into the tournament, the Panthers were ranked No. 11 in tournament rankings, according to InterMat.

The next two days will decide if the Panthers can rebound and finish in the top ten. The quarter-finals, semifinals and consolation rounds are slated for Friday. The tournament will wrap up on Saturday, with finals set for 7 p.m. Fans can tune into coverage on ESPN.