The Pitt wrestling team sent four wrestlers to the NCAA Championships this weekend. Three, you could say, seemed to have legitimate All-American chances. Dom Forys, Teshan Campbell, and Ryan Solomon were all ranked in the Top 20 this year and had a shot. Taleb Rahmani had been very impressive but an All-American ranking seemed like a reach there.
At the end, all four of Pitt's wrestlers had some success but were sent packing on Day 2 of the event without making the All-American team. Here were the brackets going into tonight's session. The only change from a Pitt perspective is that Solomon's final loss is not shown here.
At 133 pounds, Forys managed only one win in the Championship bracket before being upset by No. 11 Bryan Lantry in the second round, 5-3. Ironically, Lantry barely moved on after posting a 3-1 first-round win over a lower ranked guy while Forys, the No. 6 seed, easily defeated No. 7 seed Eric Montoya. Forys dropped into the wrestlebacks bracket, won a match, but then was upset again by No. 14 Mitch McKee - the guy that also lost to Lantry. In all, Forys was 2-2 and lost to two lower-ranked wrestlers. Forys, 21-3, ended up losing to a nearly .500 wrestler (22-18) in McKee.
Now, to be fair, McKee is no slouch. That's evidenced by the fact that he was ranked despite being only 22-18. No one else in that weight class had such a bad record with such a high ranking, so the kid is pretty good and almost surely had a difficult slate of competition. But at the end of the day, you still would consider that an upset because of how good Forys had been this season.
Campbell had the exact same path at 165 pounds, winning his first match then dropping his second. In wrestlebacks, the 10th-seeded wrestler won a match before being upset by No. 15 Drew Hughes and also finishing 2-2.
Rahmani continued to impress at 157 pounds. He dropped his first bout to No. 7 Dylan Palacio, but then went on to win two matches in wrestlebacks, including one against No. 9 Joshua Shields in the biggest upset win of the tournament for Pitt. He lost his next bout to No. 15 Archie Colgan but absolutely shouldn't hang his head about his performance coming in unranked.
Solomon had the most success and came closest to being named an All-American. He finished 3-2, winning two matches in wrestlebacks after a win in the Championship bracket, but was defeated by No. 5 Nick Nevills of Penn State for an All-American slot. Ranked No. 15, his losses were hardly shameful, losing to the No. 2 and No. 5 ranked heavyweights.
I want to feel a little torn on how to feel about Pitt's showing. The easy way out is to be fine with the results because of all of the turmoil this year in changing head coaches. But at the end of the day, wrestling is very much an individual sport. And when you look at guys like Forys and Campbell, in particular, that had three dual losses combined, there's just no way to not feel disappointed and feel like they came up short. I'm not going to attempt to speak for them but I don't know how you wouldn't feel that way to be honest with such high expectations.
So do I feel like it's just one of those things you chalk up to the instability of the program this year? Maybe from a team perspective in terms of some of the duals, etc., but certainly not from an individual standpoint at NCAAs. Jason Peters being dismissed doesn't really have much to do with guys not making All-American status. They were very good wrestlers when he was here and that doesn't change simply because he's gone. I have a really hard time pinning upset losses in NCAAs on the fact that Pitt lost its head coach in the middle of the year because those guys still went on to a lot of success after he was gone.
The good news is that the future looks bright for next year in terms of who should be returning. Pitt still has to find a coach, but doesn't lose too much to graduation. John Rizzo and Mikey Racciato were the only two seniors and Racciato was dismissed from the team a few weeks ago for a violation of team rules. Both guys did some decent work at times for Pitt but certainly aren't irreplaceable. Racciato was about as up and down as you can be at 149 pounds and Rizzo was 13-16 on the year at 197. I really enjoyed watching Racciato wrestle, especially. But there's no getting around the fact that he was very up and down for Pitt after a very nice 2015 campaign when he won an ACC title. Mikey never got back to that level on a consistent basis. Individual matches? Sure. He just had a hard time stringing wins together.
Now, you can never account for unexpected departures. After all, I don't know if there will be any more fallout from the incident earlier this year that cost Peters his job (I doubt it) and you also can't account for random departures, such as the team losing Cody Wiercioch (an NCAA qualifier in 2016) this year. But it looks like Pitt will return the core of their production from this season, including all four NCAA qualifiers. There are question marks at some weight classes that I'll cover later, but overall, they should return a ton from this year.
I'll have more in an upcoming article about the outlook for next season.