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The Pitt News

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Chris Matthews poses for a photo at the Global Hub in Posvar Hall.
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Chris Matthews poses for a photo at the Global Hub in Posvar Hall.
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Pitt wrestling fails to live up to potential at NCAA championship

Redshirt+senior+Cole+Matthews+grapples+during+a+match+against+the+NC+State+Wolfpack+at+the+Fitzgerald+Field+House+on+Jan.+26.
Alex Jurkuta | Staff Photographer
Redshirt senior Cole Matthews grapples during a match against the NC State Wolfpack at the Fitzgerald Field House on Jan. 26.

Pitt wrestling experienced the highest of highs last season. While they made it look ugly at times, the Panthers battled throughout their dual schedule and ultimately clinched their second ACC regular season title in program history. Then, on the biggest stage in collegiate wrestling, Pitt shined once more, as Nino Bonaccorsi defeated Tanner Sloan of South Dakota State to claim the Panthers’ first NCAA individual title since 2008. 

But the Panthers simply were not the same team this season. With Bonaccorsi and many other prominent seniors gone, Pitt needed fresh faces to step up to fill the void. Utilizing a few key first-years and upstart upperclassmen, the Panthers showed glimpses of greatness throughout the season as they upset teams such as No. 5 Ohio State and No. 17 Lehigh. 

Still, Pitt could not get the job done on the national level like it did last season. The Panthers failed to put a single wrestler on the podium this weekend at the NCAA Championship in Kansas City, Missouri. Pitt ultimately finished in 26th place as a team, its worst finish at the competition since 2019. 

The Panthers started off the competition on Thursday morning on a low note. None of Pitt’s seven NCAA qualifiers earned a win during the morning session. Senior Cole Matthews, who placed fifth at the tournament in 2022, could not set the pace for the Panthers in Thursday’s first match, as he fell to graduate student Mitch Moore of Rutgers 7-2. 

The rest of Pitt’s wrestlers — Luca Augustine, Finn Solomon, Reece Heller, Holden Heller, Mac Stout and Dayton Pitzer — also fell in the first round. This meant the Panthers would need to win four straight matches each to earn a place on the podium. 

But the Panthers looked capable of pulling that off in the first round of consolation matches, as all seven of Pitt’s wrestlers won their first match on Thursday evening. Reece Heller, Holden Heller and Pitzer each picked up a pin in the consolation round, which helped boost Pitt’s team score. 

“It was a crazy day,” head coach Keith Gavin said to Pittsburgh Sports Now following Pitt’s back-and-forth performance on Thursday. “I don’t ever remember being a part of a day like that, where you go 0-7 in one session, then you go 7-0 in the other.” 

But things began unraveling for Pitt wrestling on Friday, as all of its seven wrestlers were eliminated before the end of the day. 

Matthews and Stout were the only two Panthers to win their next match following Pitt’s perfect consolation round. With his college career on the line, Matthews faced off against Isaiah Powe of Chattanooga in the round of 32. Matthews got ahead early and fought off a rampant comeback attempt to hang onto the 8-5 win. 

Stout, meanwhile, won his next match in dominant fashion. The redshirt first-year blew past Garrett Joles of Minnesota, picking up a 20-5 tech fall to keep his season alive. 

But Matthews and Stout’s luck ran dry in the next round. Both ultimately fell in the round of 16. Matthews narrowly lost to Cael Happel of Northern Iowa 4-2. Stout then went out in dramatic fashion as he fell to John Poznanski of Rutgers. 

While Stout still has many more years of eligibility, Matthews’ college career is officially over. The senior had a storied career at Pitt, winning 103 career matches and earning All-American honors in 2022. 

The Panthers’ season is now over. It certainly did not end the way the team would have liked, but there is a silver lining behind the disappointment. Out of Pitt’s seven NCAA qualifiers, three are first-years, and one is a sophomore. But only time will tell if Pitt’s returning wrestlers will develop and improve in future years.

About the Contributor
Brian Sherry, Sports Editor