Pitt wrestlers competing at the USA World Team Trials narrowly missed out on representing their country in international competition.
Keith Gavin, a Pitt alumnus who graduated in 2008, placed second in the 86 kilogram class, while rising sophomore Nick Zanetta finished third in the 60 kilogram class. Both came up short at the USA World Team Trials, which took place last weekend in Madison, Wis.
Only the champions of each weight class earned spots on teams, so Gavin won’t go to Uzbekistan for the World Championships in September and Zanetta won’t travel to Croatia in August for the Junior World Championships.
Gavin, who finished 33-0 in his senior year, was the top seed in his class, having won the U.S. Open. Thus, he was automatically placed in the finals.
But Ed Ruth, a 2014 Penn State graduate, proved a tough opponent. Gavin won the first match 7-5, but Ruth took the next two, the first on a fall call, and the next 11-7.
“In the first match I was able to impose my will, and in the next two he was able to do that,” Gavin said.
Gavin, a wrestler who thrives on controlling a match and wrestling close — as opposed to an outside position — said Ruth was extremely quick and used his feet often and effectively.
Zanetta’s path was a bit more convoluted.
His efforts to finish in first place came to a quick halt when he lost to Jack Hathway 4-3. Still, Zanetta recovered to place third by way of wins over Brandon Jeske, Nate Thomas and George Fisher in the consolation finals.
Zanetta took the first two matches by injury default and the finals match by decision, 10-5. He was especially happy to get the victory over Thomas, to whom he lost in the Junior National Championships in Las Vegas.
“It’s awesome to see the best wrestlers in the world wrestling on the same mats as you, and get an idea where I’m at against these guys,” Zanetta said.
Gavin was also humbled to have the opportunity to go against the best and have the chance to represent the United States.
“You go to tournaments throughout overseas and you represent the U.S. over there, but the World Championships are different because every country’s there,” Gavin said.
In wrestling, the World Championships is the highest level of competition besides the Olympics.
“It’s everything,” he said. “There’s no professional outlet for wrestling, so this is it.”
Both Gavin and Zanetta said tournament — freestyle wrestling — is different from college, folkstyle wrestling. The two differ in scoring and strategies, especially in control, which is more important in folkstyle.
“There are different types of techniques and tendencies and strategies and tactics that you have to learn and adjust to in freestyle,” Gavin said.
Zanetta said freestyle wrestling has helped improve his folkstyle wrestling. He has used summer tournaments, along with constant workouts — many with his brother, J.J. — to better himself for college wrestling.
“Anytime I ask him to get a workout in he’s always happy to. He’s a big part of my success,” Zanetta said.
J.J. and Anthony, another brother, wrestled at Mercyhurst and Pitt, respectively.
Gavin has mostly trained at the Ohio Regional Training Center at Ohio State University since graduating from Pitt. He trains there every day except Sundays, twice a day. The training center, USA Wrestling and sponsors like Asics support him financially.
“Wrestling is my job,” he said.
On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Gavin lifts in the morning and wrestles in the afternoon. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, he does conditioning training in the morning and wrestling in the afternoon.
Gavin trains by wrestling in live matches and practicing various, often inopportune, situations he might find himself in during a match.
Since graduating from Pitt, Gavin has continued to improve his physical strength — namely in controlling matches — as well as his mental strength by taking on tougher competition.
Gavin said he hopes that his training will allow him to reach the highest levels of wrestling as he prepares for next year’s trials and his ultimate goal of making the 2016 Olympics.