Eight months after watching Tyler Wilps climb down from the podium at nationals following his devastating NCAA championship loss, the Pitt wrestling team is primed to start another season.
The Panthers open action this Sunday at the Terrapin Duals in College Park at the University of Maryland, where they will take on Kutztown, Maryland and West Liberty in three individual duals. Despite a disappointing finish for the team last season, the success of former wrestlers Tyler Wilps and Max Thomusseit at the national level last season has Pitt eager to get back on the mat.
“You get the chills and butterflies thinking about it still to this day,” said sophomore 133-pounder Dom Forys of Wilps’ second-place finish at nationals. “It’s motivation, it makes you want to work even harder.”
The team has responded accordingly and is working hard in preparation for the upcoming season, with a little added help from Wilps, who has returned to the team as a volunteer assistant coach.
“It’s a good group,” head coach Jason Peters said. “They’ve worked hard in the preseason. We have a lot of new faces in the lineup, a lot of young guys are competing, but I’m excited to go out and watch them compete.”
The first collegiate competition for many of the wrestlers was the annual Blue vs. Gold scrimmage that the Panthers held last Friday in the Fitzgerald Field House. Although the outcomes have no official bearing, the intrasquad scrimmage is another chance for an individual to impress the coaches and prove his worth heading into the season — and perhaps even earn a starting spot.
“There weren’t a lot of surprises, but I’m glad that the guys were aggressive,” Peters said.
Returning starter Dom Forys dominated in his match, upending freshman Eli Seipel via technical fall, a win of a 15-point margin.
“It was a good way to start the season,” Forys said. “It shows that I’m ready and that if I can keep transitioning what I’m doing in the room to the mat, it’ll be a successful season for me, and I’ll do my part for the team.”
Overall, the Panthers are particularly young, having only four returning upperclassmen who have seen any significant time on the mat and just seven upperclassmen all together.
The coaching staff plans to announce the captains later this week, but it won’t just be older wrestlers they rely on to be leaders this year. Forys, a sophomore, feels responsible for helping in that area.
“There’s a role that needs to be filled. I’m trying to show the younger guys what it really takes even though I’m a sophomore,” Forys said.
Regardless of youth and experience, the outlook and expectations for the team aren’t changing.
“Whenever you start a season, you want to win a conference championship and that’s always the goal. Even though there are young guys, that’s the expectation we put on them. It’s their job to rise to that expectation and hopefully we can help them to,” Peters said.
The coaching staff isn’t the only group of people feeling optimistic.
“We’re pretty young all the way around, we have only one or two seniors. Some of the guys are going to need to step up, and I think they’ll do that,” returning redshirt sophomore Ryan Solomon said.
As for his own performance, Solomon expects nothing but the best.
“I want an ACC title, and I want to be on the [NCAA] podium — and stand on top of it as a national champ,” he said.
Getting to the national championship is months down the road, but the preparation and fine-tuning starts now. This weekend, Pitt will first take on Kutztown at 10 a.m., followed by Maryland at 11:45 a.m. and will finish with West Liberty at 1:30 p.m.
As for the weekend, Solomon just wants to build momentum.
“We’re hopefully going to hit the ground running, get three wins and go from there,” he said.