Pitt headed to Virginia Tech to participate in the ACC championships on Saturday and it was a mixed bag for the Panthers. The team finished in fourth place and had an up and down day. NC State won the team championship and the final standings looked like this:
- NC State
- Virginia Tech
- North Carolina
The good news is that the Panthers sent four wrestlers to the finals. The bad? None of the other six Pitt wrestlers won a bout as all went 0-2.
Seeing those guys not even win one match to give the Panthers some points was disappointing, obviously. But it was really great to see four guys in the finals and the highlight was Micky Phillippi (133 pounds) and Demetrius Thomas (Heavyweight) both winning titles. Taleb Rahmani (157 pounds) and Nino Bonaccorsi (184 pounds) also reached the finals but lost to their opponents to finish as Runner Up. All four guys earned automatic bids to the NCAA championships.
The four wrestlers reaching the finals wasn’t completely unexpected. But nothing is ever guaranteed in these tournaments so you give all of those guys credit for winning to get there. Phillippi was the top seed and him winning the title was great. He not only won the 133-pound title but was also named the ACC Tournament MVP and Pitt having him for three more years is just incredible.
Thomas’ win, however, was a little more unexpected. He was the No. 2 seed and faced No. 1 seed Cory Daniel from North Carolina. The two had split a pair of matchups this season (Thomas won at the Cliff Keen Tournament in Vegas and Daniel won in the Pitt-UNC dual) but Daniel came into this one as the slight favorite. Thomas scored a late takedown to win the title. I was particularly glad to see him win it as he was the aggressor in the match and simply looked better.
Despite the success of four guys, the tournament was just another reminder that Pitt has work to do to become elite. They’ve successfully proven themselves to be a Top 15 program this year and, given how bad last season was, that was a remarkable turnaround. But now it’s about getting to the next level and into the Top five. To do that, as I’ve said all year, Pitt will need to become more competitive at more weights.
The injuries to Jake Wentzel and Robert Lee this year didn’t help but it’s still clear that the Panthers need to do better at many weights. No offense at all to guys like Brendon Fenton or especially backups Tommy O’Brien and Dallas Bulsak, who were thrust into action unexpectedly after the Wentzel injury. All three are underclassmen so it doesn’t mean they’ve peaked or anything. Their careers, really, are just getting started. But it’s clear they were pretty out of their league this year and you just can’t have holes like that if you want to be elite.
Still, you don’t become elite overnight and this year was beyond encouraging. The good news is that while this year was pretty good, next year should be even better. All four of those guys that reached the finals return. And some of those weight classes that need upgrades will get some much needed help with several young guys ready to step up after redshirts. How good will Pitt be? That’s yet to be determined. But next year’s team has the potential to finish in the Top Ten, in my mind, given what they return.
Next up, Pitt will wait to see if any other wrestlers earn at large bids to the NCAA Tournament.