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Pitt wrestling finishes 11th at NCAA Championships

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The Pitt wrestling team concluded the NCAA wrestling championships with an 11th place finish. That mark was the team’s best result in decades — their best championship appearance since 1970 when the team finished 8th. Pitt scored a total of 40.5 points.

Typically, that would be cause for celebration. But the focus, of course, was that both of the Panthers’ finalists still standing, Jake Wentzel and Nino Bonaccorsi, were both defeated. Wentzel was upended by Stanford’s Shane Griffith, 7-2, at 165 pounds. Bonaccorsi, meanwhile, lost 4-2, to true freshman A.J. Ferrari at 197 pounds.

Many folks wanted stalling called on Ferrari, who was repeatedly booed during the match. It was a fine line, for sure, and if it was called, I doubt there would have been much objection. But Ferrari did continue to try to take shots and I didn’t think it was a clear cut as a lot of Pitt fans did.

Disappointing finals, for sure. I, for one, fully expected at least one to win. Wentzel surely looked like the favorite and has been seemingly unbeatable. Plus, the door was open for Bonaccorsi after Ferrari took out the No. 1 seed Myles Amine in the semifinals. Neither had to pull off superhuman upsets and that’s what makes this tough to take.

But the flip side is that, even putting two guys in the finals was a tremendous achievement for a program that has not been in wrestling’s elite in some time. I’m not even trying to play the glass half full game right now. I think that’s a legitimate positive. It’s been several years since Pitt had even one finalist and having two in the same year is a real improvement.

The national title appearances, as I wrote prior to the matches, should hopefully help to sell potential elite recruits on the idea that the program is on the rise and that winning a national title here under this coaching staff is within reach.

The Panthers surely could have done better as a team. Cole Matthews and Gregg Harvey, who have both been ranked in their weight classes, had disappointing tournaments, going only 1-2. Micky Phillippi, who entered the season looking like Pitt’s best wrestler, failed to reach All-American status. Even as a No. 5 seed, he went 2-2, while suffering a major decision loss. But overall, the 11th place finish thanks to having two finalists, was incredibly strong.

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