The Pitt wrestling team had a lot going against it in its opener against No. 10 Virginia Tech. Not much went right for the Panthers, who were defeated, 31-6.
Virginia Tech is incredibly tough in the heavier weights so that meant Pitt would have to start off quickly to have a shot at winning.
So much for that.
Pitt suffered a brutal loss at 125 with L.J. Bentley being pinned to put them in an early 6-0 hole. Bentley seemed to have a 2-0 lead but had his takedown wiped out after a review. The match went to overtime where, at worst, you expect a takedown and a 3-0 loss. But Bentley wound up being pinned in the extra period and when you take a bout that’s a possible win and turn it into a pin for the other team, that’s as demoralizing a start as they had the last two times out with forfeits at that class.
The Panthers did rebound at 133 as #11 Dom Forys won a really nice bout over #14 Dennis Gustafson to cut it to 6-3, but No. 15 Anthony Zanetta was upset in a 2-0 loss to an unranked wrestler, and that’s when the wheels came off the tracks. Trailing 9-3, Robert Lee (149) dropped his bout and Pitt was missing one of its ranked wrestlers at 157 as Taleb Rahmani missed the contest with the flu. That threw freshman Giovanne Sanders into the fire and he was defeated as the losses began to mount.
Things didn’t end there. Jake Wentzel lost at 165 before Austin Bell lost a particularly ugly technical fall, 18-3. Then, Gregg Harvey and Zach Bruce lost at 184 and 194, respectively, to make it 31-3. #16 Ryan Solomon saved face, winning a tough 2-0 bout with #18 Andrew Dunn, making the final score 31-6.
Ugly meet but one thing of note here is that Pitt seemed to have benched Kellan Stout for now at 197 - at least for today, anyway. Bruce, previously a 184-pounder, moved up a weight to wrestle today in place of Stout. He didn’t fare too well, losing 11-2, but he was also facing the No. 2 wrestler at that class, Jared Haught. He gave up a disappointing last-second takedown to turn a loss into a major at the buzzer, but other than that, it’s too hard to expect much from him in that spot today.
The plan for Stout was to hopefully take the reins at that class for the next few seasons but he’s really struggled this season. Stout had an undefeated senior year in high school at 182 pounds but has really struggled trying to compete at the higher 197-pound weight. He’s 2-10 on the season and had lost six bouts in a row. And as discussed during the broadcast, moving him down doesn’t seem like much of a possibility with highly touted freshman Nino Bonaccorsi redshirting this season and expected to take that spot next year. Pitt also has Gregg Harvey at 184, who has done some halfway decent things this season.
Where this leaves Stout is beyond me. They’re not giving up on him obviously as he’s only a sophomore. But Bruce still has one year of eligibility left beyond this one so if Stout continues to struggle, seemingly, he could be on the outside looking in even next year as well. Ideally, he improves enough to regain the job since I think Bruce’s ceiling is pretty limited. But for now, Pitt appears to be giving Bruce a shot.
Austin Bell is a guy that would seem to be on borrowed time at 174. He was completely again outgunned today in not even facing a ranked wrestler, losing 18-3. Bell has struggled just as much (if not more so) as Stout and is 2-9 having lost his last seven. The problem is that Pitt’s options seem extremely limited there. Freshman Tommy O’Brien is the only other wrestler on the roster listed at that weight so any replacement aside from him would have to be someone changing weights.
Thing is, I don’t even know what options exist if you wanted to do that. 184 is all Harvey’s now with Bruce moving up to 197 for the time being. No one else, other than the redshirting Nino, is listed at that spot. At 165, you’ve got only Wentzel. Barring something drastic like trying true freshman Tommy O’Brien or burning Bonaccorsi’s redshirt, Pitt appears to have no other options at 174.
It’s not just those two guys as Pitt has very real issues at other weights, as I’ve mentioned before. Bentley hasn’t provided the spark needed at 125 and other classes, such as 149 and 184 are big question marks.
The lone encouraging thing for the team is the continued great work by Forys and Solomon. This year, to me, is about developing the young guys and getting those guys to compete to be All-Americans. Expecting much from a team perspective at this point is just kind of fruitless and I’m not sure Zanetta and Rahmani are serious All-American contenders right now, either. As ranked guys, they’re somewhat in the mix, obviously. But Forys and Solomon look to be Pitt’s two best shots in that regard.
Pitt upset a top 20 Oklahoma team last time out but as today proved, they’re not all that close to being able to compete with ranked teams on a consistent basis.
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