Wrestling: Freshman Johnson takes first at Buffalo Open, young Panthers finding success

By Greg Trietley

Pitt athletics underwent a youth movement during the offseason.

In football, freshman running back Dion Lewis replaced the departed LeSean McCoy. This season, the Pitt basketball team looks to replace the trio of Sam Young, DeJuan Blair and Levance Fields.

On Sunday, Pitt wrestling flaunted its young blood when true freshman Dane Johnson won his first collegiate tournament. He was one of 14 Panthers to place in the season-opening Buffalo Open.

Johnson won the 141-pound class out of a field of 23 wrestlers. The wrestling youth movement impressed Pitt coach Rande Stottlemyer.

“As we continue to that next level, we just want to do better,” Stottlemyer said. “But we’re young. We’re not a real experienced team, but we have some talent to compete.”

Another young Pitt wrestler joined Johnson in the winner’s circle.

Sophomore Matt Wilps won the 197-pound title. Like Johnson, the win is Wilps’ first collegiate tournament title.

Two hundred forty-eight wrestlers from 27 schools participated in the day-long tournament.

With such a large event, Stottlemyer said, competitors can find the day tough.

“We had guys wrestle seven or eight matches [Sunday],” Stottlemyer said. “That’s a lot of wrestling.”

Sophomore Chris Kochinsky alone wrestled six opponents Sunday, securing third place in the 125-pound class. He climbed through the consolation bracket after losing his opening round match to Rutgers’ Matt Fusco 6-3.

Veteran Panthers made their mark on the tournament, as well.

Stottlemyer said that perhaps the most impressive Panther was junior Ryan Tomei. Tomei captured the fifth tournament win of his career Sunday, knocking off five opponents to take the heavyweight title.

The Eastern Wrestling League recognized Tomei after Sunday’s affair for competing internationally over the summer.

“He won the EWL wrestler of the week,” Stottlemyer said.

Returning home this week for the Blue-Gold Match Thursday evening, Stottlemyer said he hopes his wrestlers continue to perform well.

“We want to compete on a national level,” Stottlemyer said. “Putting guys on the All-American podium is what we’re trying to do.”

Stottlemyer said the Buffalo Open was a good tournament to start the season, as it mixed together many different wrestling squads. Schools from the NJCAA and the NCAA Divisions I, II and II all participated.

“With the Buffalo Open, you’re taking some really good teams with some not-so-good teams,” Stottlemyer said. “You want to try and get a good pace going, get ready for that quality of competition.”

The tournament featured three nationally ranked Division I teams and seven nationally ranked Division I wrestlers.

Though the Panthers started the season well, the squad won’t rest on its laurels, Stottlemyer said. There’s always room to improve.

Nonetheless, Johnson could live with more tournaments like Sunday’s.