Pitt's wrestling season hasn't exactly gone according to plan. After a year last season that saw them reach the Top 5 in the national rankings, the Panthers got younger this year and stumbled to a .500 season duals record.
The team, however, had a bright spot in wrestlers Tyler Wilps and Max Thomusseit, who were both still alive in the NCAA Tournament in their respective weight classes on Friday. Thomusseit was upset earlier in the day, but Wilps had a huge Friday, winning a few matches to reach the finals of the 174-pound weight class. Wilps is Pitt's first finalist since Keith Gavin won a national championship at the same weight class in 2008. Overall, he's the 18th Panther to reach a finalist in the program's history.
On his way there, Wilps took out the No. 1 seed Robert Kokesh of Nebraska. That win put him in the semifinals and guaranteed him All-American status or the second consecutive year. In that match Saturday night, he defeated Kyle Crutchmer of Oklahoma State for a 3-1 sudden victory after the first three periods remained tied at 1-1. Afterward, he talked about the move that sent him to the championship.
"Like I said, he's a tough wrestler. He's very defensive. I knew I was going to have to push the pace for the whole match. So I was just pushing and pushing and pushing until I found that time that I could score, and I took advantage of it. He got lazy on the edge. I got on a leg and had to keep him in the finish, and I got it."
If you managed to see the match on ESPN3, by the way, you know that it happened exactly as Tyler described. He went in on one leg first then wrapped him up with the second for the takedown award for the two points and the win.
For Thomusseit, it was a disappointing end to an incredible season. He entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed, but lost in the quarterfinals and then in the wrestlebacks consolation bracket. Despite a 26-3 record, Thomusseit will not be an All-American. Heavyweight Ryan Solomon gave the Panthers a couple of wins before bowing out, and Troy Reaghard and Mikey Racciato both picked up a win in the consolation bracket. Freshman Dom Forys was 0-2 in the event. Here's a full breakdown of the Panthers' results.
Next up for Wilps is a rival of sorts as he'll battle Penn State's Matt Brown for the title. He lost to Brown last year and was narrowly defeated by him earlier this season, 6-5. Currently, the team is in 21st place at the event with the chance to pick up some more points if Wilps can knock off Brown on Saturday night.
Overall, the tournament has been a little disappointing with Racciato, Reaghard, and Forys all getting bounced fairly early and finishing with sub-.500 records. Thomusseit falling short of All-American status as a No. 2 seed was also tough to swallow. But Wilps has a chance to help make up for the team's overall result a little with a national championship.