Sunday, June 11, 2017

World Team Trials Opinions Piece

By Stephen Patrick

Opinions (Everyone has them)

Tony Rotundo
  • With Tony Ramos making the World Team straight out of college in 2014 and again in 2015, followed by Dan Dennis making the Olympic Team in 2016, Iowa wrestlers have controlled the 57kg weight class for the past three years, and it appears they may continue to do so for a long time. Thomas Gilman made his first senior level World team on Saturday, defeating Ramos in the finals. Besides those two most likely owning the weight for the next two or three years, Iowa has a freshman coming in next year who will surely compete at 57 at the senior level. He has a cadet and two junior World titles. In case you forgot, his name is Spencer Lee. 
  • So, it's a reasonable bet Iowa Hawkeyes could possess sole ownership of 57 kilograms from 2014 to 2020 and beyond.
  • Thomas Gilman beat four different NCAA champions on his way to making the team, including Ramos twice in a row. The only match he didn't beat a champ was the quarterfinals where he faced the 1 seed, Tyler Graff. 
  • In those matches against champs, he outscored Darian Cruz, Nico Megaludis, Nathan Tomasello, and Tony Ramos (twice) by a combined score of 37-9. Watch out Paris.
  • David Taylor and Kyle Dake still have not made a World team. 
  • Tony Rotundo
  • Who would have thought "Kid Dynamite", class of 2013, and the "Magic Man", class of 2014, would be 4 and 3 years out of college without representing the US at a World tournament. 
  • Jordan Burroughs has defeated both Dake and Taylor in the trials finals. Dake has knocked Taylor out in the challenge tournament finals. And J'den Cox has knocked both out after losing the first match and winning the next two in the best 2 out of 3. 
  • You shouldn't perceive the last few bullets as a knock on Dake or Taylor, but rather a testament to how tough it is to make a senior level World team. It also shows you how good Jordan Burroughs and J'den Cox are. 
  • Tony Rotundo
  • Winning the US Open or medaling at the previous years World/Olypmic championships gives you a bye to the finals of the trials. The benefit of that was readily apparent at 74 and 86 kg. 
  • Sticking with Dake, Taylor, Burroughs, and Cox, it was readily apparent that by the third match of the finals, Dake and Taylor had run out of gas against JB and J'den. And for good reason. 
  • In the challenge tournament Dake had to wrestle Isaiah Martinez and Alex Dieringer. 
  • Taylor had to go through Joe Rau, Pat Downey, and an extremely tough match vs Nick Heflin. 
  • Even with Cox hyperextending his knee in the third match of the finals, Taylor still couldn't score and even gave up a few pushout points. In the second period of the third match vs Burroughs, Dake got to his legs on multiple shots but didn't come close to finishing. They were tired.
  • Tony Rotundo
  • One of the best parts about these types of tournaments isn't even the finals. It's the early rounds and consolations that often feature NCAA champions fighting to not go 0-2. Once college wrestling fans realize they can watch Cody Brewer vs Jayson Ness in the quarterfinals or Jason Chamberlain vs Jason Nolf in the consolations, the popularity of freestyle will quickly explode. 
  • The US Senior Freestyle National Team (top three at each weight) for 2017: 
    • 57: Thomas Gilman, Tony Ramos, Nathan Tomasello
    • 61: Logan Stieber, Kendric Maple, Brandon Wright 
    • 65: Zain Retherford, Frank Molinaro, BJ Futrell
    • 70: James Green, Jimmy Kennedy, Jason Nolf
    • 74: Jordan Burroughs, Kyle Dake, Alex Dieringer
    • 86: J'den Cox, David Taylor, Nick Heflin
    • 97: Kyle Snyder, Kyven Gadson, Hayden Zillmer
    • 125: Nick Gwiazdowski, Dom Bradley, Tony Nelson
  • What colleges did these fine gentlemen attend/are attending?
    • 57: Iowa, Iowa, Ohio State
    • 61: Ohio State, Oklahoma, Grand View 
    • 65: Penn State, Penn State, Illinois
    • 70: Nebraska, Illinois, Penn State
    • 74: Nebraska, Cornell, Oklahoma State
    • 86: Missouri, Penn State, Ohio State
    • 97: Ohio State, Iowa State, North Dakota State
    • 125: North Carolina State, Missouri, Minnesota 
  • In graph form:
  • Looks kind of like the NCAA standings, huh?
  • Big Ten schools account for 15/24 = 62.5 %
  • Tony Rotundo
  • Dom Bradley finished 3rd at the World/Olympic trials in 2009, 10, 11, 15, and 16. He finished 2nd on Saturday. 
  • An important part of senior level freestyle that is often neglected in the States is athletes' previous age level accomplishments, meaning juniors and cadets. According to this well organized tweet from Willie Saylor, here are our senior teams' finishes in junior and cadet Worlds: 
    • Gilman placed 10th as a Cadet and 8th and 3rd as a Junior
    • Stieber got 2nd as a Junior
    • Zain won as a Cadet 
    • Green did not compete 
    • Burroughs placed 10th as a Junior
    • J'den did not compete
    • Snyder earned Bronze and Gold as a Junior
    • Gwiz did not compete
  • Gives you an interesting perspective
  • Here are some random results from the tournament that stood out to me, and go along with my earlier point of college fans appreciating freestyle more:
    • Alan Waters over Nahshon Garrett 18-6
    • Tyler Graff over Alan Waters 16-5
    • Nathan Tomasello over Tyler Graff 8-2
    • Cody Brewer over Jayson Ness 14-13
    • Brandon Wright over Seth Gross 13-11
    • Brandon Wright over Josh Kindig 10-4
    • Joe Colon over Seth Gross 11-5
    • Cody Brewer over Joe Colon 20-10
    • Brandon Wright over Cody Brewer 14-4
    • Nick Dardanes over Dean Heil 10-0
    • Chance Marsteller over Anthony Valencia 6-1
    • Isaiah Martinez over Chance Marsteller 9-6
  • Call me crazy but that is just as, or more, exciting than an NCAA tournament 
  • Lastly, let's talk medal potential for Paris. I'm going to rank them as Low, Medium, High, and Guaranteed. These are purely subjective, and obviously nothing is guaranteed. Also, I don't believe in jinxes:
    • Gilman: Medium
    • Stieber: High
    • Retherford: Medium
    • Green: High
    • Burroughs: High
    • Cox: Guaranteed
    • Snyder: Guaranteed
    • Gwiazdowski: Medium
  • 57 won't be the strongest weight class this year but Gilman has never competed at the Senior level. He did handle Ramos though...
  • Stieber is the returning World champ but 61 is being infused with talent from other weight classes as well as the returning competitors. Winning will be hard, but medaling definitely possible 
  • Retherford has also never competed at the Senior level but his pace, conditioning, hand fighting, position, mat control and relentless style will prove difficult for the best foreigners
  • After medaling in his home country in 2015, Green missed out last year. He looked great at the trials and should find himself on the podium again 
  • Similarly, after winning in Vegas, Burroughs had a disappointing Rio. He'll be looking to reassert himself in France 
  • David Taylor recently teched and pinned Olympic gold medalists. J'den Cox just beat him 2 out of 3 matches. With Sadulaev moving up to 97, 86 is ripe for the taking, and J'den looks to be in a position to do it. I expect no less than a finals appearance from the 3x NCAA champ
  • Kyle Snyder will wrestle Abdulrashid Sadulaev in the finals at 97kg. It will be one of the most anticipated wrestling matches of all time. Snyder will be going for his 3rd World title as a 21 year old and Sadulaev going for his 4th as a 21 year old. With 5 combined Gold medals before their 22nd birthday, these two may not even be in their primes yet. This year could be the start of many years of epic 97kg finals matches.
  • I was torn between medium and low for Gwiz. As good as he is, this will also be his first senior level world tournament and 125kg has a few guys on top that will be nearly impossible to beat. With Taha Akgul (Turkey) and Geno Petriashvilli (Georgia) surely locking up the top two spots, that leaves two Bronze medals up for grabs. FloWrestling has Gwiz ranked 16th in the World, although he has beaten 4th ranked Khomeil Ghasemi (Iran). So, I stuck with medium. 
  • Here's hoping for 8 Golds. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Conversation with Mark Schultz

By Stephen Patrick

A few months ago I had the privilege of interviewing 3x NCAA, 2x World, and Olympic Champion, Mark Schultz. Mark is known for his unique life story, well documented in his book Foxcatcher, as well as his many athletic accomplishments. He is an ambassador for the sport of wrestling, and is often considered (along with his brother Dave) one of the top 10 American wrestlers of all time.

Dave (L) and Mark (R) Schultz admiring their Gold medals after the 1984 Olympics. Daily Mail
At the time of our interview the political atmosphere in our country was still very heated from the election, the fate of the US freestyle team competing in the World Cup was still unknown, and Jason Peters had recently been fired from Pitt. Mark routinely takes to Twitter to discuss world events, politics, wrestling, and life in general. Around this time he had also tweeted about the head coaching vacancy at Pitt, lobbying on his own behalf. This prompted me to direct message him and set up the interview.

We discussed international relations with Iran, the US converting to freestyle, how wrestling could improve diplomacy, the Pitt coaching search, and one of Mark's favorite topics, the Federal Reserve. What follows here is a summary of our discussion along with some of my personal stories from the 2015 World Championships in Las Vegas, where I happened to talk an Iranian gentleman about some of the same issues.

"I think wrestling is going to play a big part of the US and Iran becoming friends or allies in the future just because there’s no prejudice when it comes to wrestling."

Mark is adamant that the sport of wrestling can transcend political and cultural differences and help break down the diplomatic barriers between these two diametrically opposed countries. There is a stigma that exists in our country about Iran, and for good reason. They've been involved in some of the biggest political controversies in our history. But Mark notes there is a distinct difference between the people and the government: "The government of Iran, they’re so anti American, but the people of Iran are actually pro American." Continuing, "I don’t think there’s any prejudice between Americans and Iranians as far as the people go. It’s all government."

Jordan Burroughs shakes hands with Iranian fans at the 2013 World Cup in Tehran. CapitalBay 
But what does wrestling have to do with diplomacy? I don't mean for this article to get too political, but those topics dominated our conversation, and I found the connection between wrestling and politics to be stronger than I had ever realized, especially as a lot of the things Mark told me matched exactly what Yousef (the Iranian from Vegas) told me as well.

Yousef, who immigrated to the United States fifteen years ago owns a wrestling and jiu-jitsu gym in Texas. He noted during our 45 minute cab line conversation that if we (Americans) would travel to Iran we would find a friendly, welcoming people and a beautiful country. We would be treated like rock stars, and once the native Iranians found out we were wrestlers, they would compete among themselves to show us the most hospitality.

Another prominent American wrestler featured in the above picture (perhaps you've heard of him) wrote a blog on this very subject on April 4th. Noticing a pattern here? More on the Champ later...

It's not just American wrestlers that share this sentiment towards Iranians; the inverse is true as well. There is a mutual respect and reciprocation of decency from our Persian counterparts. Besides the fans practically falling out of the stands in the above picture, Hassan Yazdani, Iran's 74kg rep to the Rio Olympics, made international headlines before the 2016 World Cup by reaching out to an American.

Burroughs withdrew from the competition to be with his wife during the birth of their daughter. Though Yazdani (who would go on to win Gold in Rio) vs Burroughs was slated to be a super-match and ultimately didn't happen, the young Iranian star responded with an incredible act of sportsmanship. He bestowed the Burroughs family - Jordan, Lauren, Beacon, and baby Ora - with a Termeh, a hand-woven Persian cloth. Truly beautiful.

Yazdani with his Gold Medal in Rio. IranThisWay
As politicians can't seem to make any progress with diplomacy, perhaps Mark is more right than one would think: "If there’s going to be a bridge I think wrestling is going to play a part of that, a big part."

Just as "Little Yaz", as he's known, reached out to the Burroughs family, Mark has also reached out to Iranians.

"I helped Mansour Barzegar immigrate to the United States". Barzegar, Iran's first world champion and Olympic silver medalist, wanted to move to the United States to be closer with his daughter. Mark wrote a letter to Barzegar's attorney, stating his case for why he should be allowed to move to the US. Additionally, Ardeshir Asgari, whom Mark considers one of his "first really good Iranian friends", also wanted to come to the western hemisphere but for slightly different reasons.

Being threatened with death by his own father for leaving Islam, Asgari escaped to the Venezuelan embassy, which eventually handed him over to the US. Once he became established in the States, he took over the head coaching job at Cal State Fullerton. Now Mark believes he is the president of the Nicaraguan wrestling association, although he isn't sure.

Since landing in the United States, Asgari has had an interesting time. While training for the 1988 Olympics, in which he wanted to wrestle for the United States, he was arrested for possessing a pound of heroin. While in jail before his trial, he missed the opportunity to make the team. However, the jury found that he was framed by the Iranian government and awarded him 3.3 million dollars.

While being interviewed by CNN, Asgari responded "I love this country."

Both of these examples, along with Yazdani, show the mutual respect between American and Iranian wrestlers. If only the powers-that-be would notice.

Another topic of conversation in my interview with Mark, and one that may or may not have bearing on international relations, involved the US converting to freestyle. In the interest of full disclosure, before the interview I was 100% in favor of switching from folk to free, however Mark made some convincing counterpoints. 

"I don't think it's a good idea to hand over control of an American controlled style to an international governing body that we have no control over." Mark believes United World Wrestling (UWW) would not prioritize American interests the way USA Wrestling or the NCAA does. Now, it is not UWW's job to help Americans as they are in charge of the entire world's freestyle and greco wrestling operations, but Mark believes it would be easier and more beneficial to keep the status quo intact and adjust accordingly, rather than a wholesale switch with abrupt and disruptive changes. 

"Collegiate style and freestyle are so similar in nature anyway that it really doesn't take much to make that transition."

Daily Mail
This is an area I disagree with. It's actually the main reason I want the US to change. If you watch senior level international wrestling, you'll probably notice a distinct style difference between the US and other world powers. The US often relies on traditional techniques, strong defense, and unparalleled conditioning whereas Russia (and the other Soviet states) and Iran routinely hit "bigger" moves, throws, trips, and creative feet-to-back scores that you would never see in the States. Now the US finished 2nd at the most recent World Cup and 3rd at the Rio Olympics. Maybe our style isn't so bad after all. But call me greedy; I want to win.

An additional con to changing to freestyle would be upsetting the established order, or in other words, the entire wrestling system in the United States from youth to high school throughout the sport's history in our country. Might not go over well with a few people. It would be an arduous process and would have to start in college and work its way down to youth. It would require educating our nation's high school and middle school coaches. It would take time, money and organization. I believe it would be worth it.

There are rumblings in the wrestling world regarding potential rule changes in college to allow for push-out points and nearfall points from the feet. These two rules would not undermine the idea of folkstyle, but it looks more like a soft transition to freestyle rather than a simple modification of folk.

Another aspect of having a style that differs from the rest of the world, and from that of major international competitions, is the individual athlete having to adjust to the rule and style changes right after the college season ends. Some people think that transition is harder than others. Just take it from Mark: "All you have to do to switch from one style to the other is just tell yourself 'this is the style I’m going to be wrestling now.'" Wise words.

Read this excerpt from Jordan Burroughs' blog and tell me that he, Yousef and Mark - all completely independent of each other - don't prove the exact same point:

"Upon touchdown in Kermanshah, Iran, all of our fears and concerns regarding safety were immediately alleviated as we were welcomed with open arms. Reporters lined the airport runway to greet us with television cameras. Fans lined the inside of the terminal in hopes to get close enough to snap a photo. We were well protected with security guards during our entire trip. We were escorted to and from the venue and hotel by police vehicles. Security details stayed by our sides until we were safely back to our hotel rooms each night. But in all seriousness, the only thing that I needed protection from was the overwhelming showering of kisses from adoring fans each day. The Iranian people are some of the most gracious and loving, especially to wrestlers. Their passion and knowledge of the sport of wrestling is incredible. Being in an arena with Iranian fans is electric, emotional, and almost indescribable. Every senior level wrestler should experience what it is like to compete in Iran."

If you're still a doubter, check out these articles: 


The last time an American showed strength towards Iran it worked out well. The Iranian hostage crisis was magically resolved just minutes after our 40th President was sworn into office. Perhaps if we beat Iran at its own game - made their strength our strength - they would be more open to listening. After all, "wrestling is such an important part of Iranian culture."

Who was our 40th President again?

Dutton Books

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Keith Gavin to be Pitt's Next Head Wrestling Coach

Plus, a reflection on 2017 and a preview of 2018

By Stephen Patrick

KEITH GAVIN will be Pitt Wrestling's next Head Coach.

Gavin, Pitt's most recent NCAA Champion, will officially take over from Jason Peters as the next Head Coach. Matt Kocher and Drew Headlee were serving as co-head Coaches after Peters got fired, but only for the interim. Their fate is currently unknown.

Latrobe Wrestling
This will be Gavin's first head coaching job, after previously serving as an assistant to Steve Garland at Virginia for two seasons, and most recently to Lou Rosselli at Oklahoma. In addition to coaching under well respected and highly accomplished coaches, Gavin brings with him an outstanding freestyle resume.

Keith placed no worse than 3rd at six consecutive World Team Trials spanning 2010-2015. In 2013, he was the United States' rep to the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary. He's also competed at the Yasar Dogu International and Pan American Championships. Some of his domestic freestyle wins include victories over Clayton Foster, Ed Ruth, Jon Reader, and Quentin Wright.

As the popularity of freestyle increases among high school standouts, this could prove a vital asset to recruiting. Don't think for a second that training under Terry Brands to make the 2020 Olympic team isn't an ulterior motive for Spencer Lee going to Iowa. Of course he wants to win NCAA titles, but top notch high school kids with cadet and junior freestyle experience, like Lee and Daton Fix and Gable Steveson, most certainly consider a program's freestyle accolades as well as its folkstyle. And word is, Gavin could bring in some heavy hitters as assistants, all with tremendous international experience.

The Search

Pitt's search for its next coach after Jason Peters was fired on January 19th of this year has been, well, interesting to say the least. It all started with Pat Santoro, Pitt's only 4x All American. As has been well documented on the inter-webs, Santoro opted to stay at Lehigh for one reason or another. There is no point in dwelling on why. He would have made a fantastic coach at Pitt, he is a fantastic coach at Lehigh, and I look forward to watching his and Gavin's teams competing against each other for the foreseeable future.

Other candidates included Edinboro's Tim Flynn and South Dakota State's Chris Bono. Again, the rumors have been discussed at length on twitter and other wrestling forums. Although a certain string of tweets netted me over 120 followers, and I stick by what I said, the best thing for Pitt Wrestling now is to look forward, focus on recruiting, and make sure next season won't be the third straight without an All American. While Gavin may not have the pressure on him to succeed immediately like a Santoro or Bono would, he will have pressure to put together a good staff and to start recruiting immediately. Pitt has missed out on most of the top WPIAL recruits in recent years, and reversing this trend will assuredly be the cornerstone of Gavin's plan to revitalize the program.

2017 wrap-up

Pitt started its season well. The Panthers went 2-0 at the Mountaineer Duals defeating Ohio and Campbell. Then, staying on the road, Pitt took out long-time EWL rival Edinboro, on the backs of upset wins by TeShan Campbell and Ryan Solomon. Upon returning to the Fitzgerald Field House the Panthers suffered their first loss to longtime rival Lehigh. Coached by Pitt great Pat Santoro, the Mountain Hawks dominated, taking 8 of the 10 matches. To add insult to injury, then No. 8 Dom Forys defeated then No. 18 Scotty Parker handily 9-4. Of course, Parker would go on to All American, and Forys would lose in the round of 16, two matches shy. 

Pitt bounced back well though, taking second place at the Keystone Classic, losing only to eventual National Champion Penn State. After the annual trip to the Palestra, the roller coaster continued. The next dual match Pitt got brutally shut out by Oklahoma State for the second year in a row. Remember it was only four years ago that Pitt beat OSU. Now they’re 0-20 in the last two duals with 11 of those losses by way of bonus points. The ups and downs rolled on with Pitt returning home and defeating old time rival - for all sports - West Virginia. Although the Mountaineers were missing Zeke Moisey and Dylan Cottrell, it was a nice way for Pitt to get back in the win column. 

However, right on cue, the roller coaster dove again, this time in Evanston, Illinois. It would be an unproductive use of time in recapping what happened on or off the mat at Midlands, as none of it was good for Pitt (save Nick Zanetta as I wrote in a previous blog). Like the double-dip on the Jackrabbit at Kennywood, right after Pitt experienced its lowest point of the season, it shot straight back up. The Panthers went 3-0 at the Pitt Duals destroying Franklin & Marshall, Davidson, and Bloomsburg by a combined score of 123-6. 

Has the pattern been established yet? The next contest on Pitt’s schedule was against top conference foe Virginia Tech. With many members of the starting lineup suspended, Pitt forfeited the first two weight classes and sent out backups at 149, 157, and 184. Continuing their trip through the Commonwealth of Virginia, you guessed it, the Panthers won their next match in dominant fashion taking out VMI 37-6. 

Without hesitation, the coaster, now representative of the rapidly oscillating last stretch of the Phantom's Revenge, took another downward turn as Pitt lost two straight conference matches to North Carolina and North Carolina State. It’s worth noting, Pitt actually wrestled well against NCST with Solomon beating Mike Kosoy in overtime, Forys majoring Jamal Morris, Mikey Racciato pinning Beau Donahue, and Taleb Rahmani pushing Thomas Bullard to overtime. And Rahmani probably should have won if not for a bad call by the ref.

The cliched roller coaster continued its ascent through Iowa State, Virginia, Duke and even ACCs. Alas, this coaster would not end pointed upwards. The last downward turn it would take came in St. Louis at NCAAs. While it certainly didn't take a Pittsburgh Plunge as all 4 of Pitt's entrants finished top 16, it also certainly lacked a Thunderbolt worthy exciting ending as none of Pitt's delegation finished top 8.

Looking Forward 

What an exciting time to be alive for Pitt wrestling fans. Besides a new era coaching wise, Pitt will return 7 of 10 starters and 3 of 4 NCAA qualifiers next season. While Mikey Racciato and John Rizzo are departing via graduation, TeShan Campbell will be doing so via transfer. The rising junior from Penn Hills is heading westward to compete for Tom Ryan's Buckeyes. On the surface it's hard to blame Campbell. After all the last three seasons Ohio State has finished 1st, 3rd, and 2nd as a team at NCAAs. His practice partners will include the likes of Bo Jordan, Myles Martin and Kaleb Romero. The University is building a brand new wrestling-only facility. Nonetheless, I wonder what he'll think of how Gavin runs the program, and if he'll regret leaving. Columbus is quite a further drive than Oakland.

In addition to most of the starters returning, Pitt will be getting freshmen Jake Wentzel, Austin Bell, and Christian Dietrich back next season. I had postulated in a previous blog that an established coach like Tim Flynn could bring transfers from his current school. While I don't see that happening with Gavin, especially not all the way from Oklahoma, I do think the new coaching staff will be able to establish a strong recruiting territory.

Even if Pitt does not receive any transfers, it appears most of the pieces are already in place to send out a solid lineup. My predictions, weight class by weight class:

125: LJ Bentley
133: KJ Fenstermacher
141: Dom Forys
149: Nick Zanetta
157: Jake Wentzel
165: Taleb Rahmani
174: Austin Bell
184: Nino Bonaccorsi
197: Zach Bruce
285: Ryan Solomon

Something tells me Forys is going up to 141. That leaves 133 wide open for incoming Northampton grad Fenstermacher. Zanetta started over Robert Lee at 141 this year so one would assume that will carry over to next season. 157 is a good problem to have. Rahmani absolutely exceeded expectations this season and had an awesome stretch run through ACCs and NCAAs. However, one would be remiss to forget that Wentzel majored him in the Blue-Gold match. Bell and Dietrich will battle for 174 but I see Bell winning that one. With Rizzo graduating, it seems likely for Bruce to resume his duties at 197. That leaves an opening for incoming Bethel Park grad Nino Bonaccorsi. And of course, Solomon closing it out.

It's a thought provoking lineup. It's not going to beat Penn State. It probably won't beat Lehigh. It's spread pretty evenly between classes. It will have true freshmen. It's probably a touch worse than this seasons'. But it's a good building block for Gavin. There are no overt weaknesses and there are some seasoned veterans with serious potential to make All American as seniors in Dom Forys and Ryan Solomon.

Opinions (Everyone has them)

  • It isn't everyday FloWrestling shows your twitter account on their podcast
  • My tweets generated controversy surrounding the coaching search. I'm not mentioning this to toot my own horn, but rather to lay to rest any lingering questions. I nearly tripled my twitter followers and have received dozens of private messages, many of which from people I have never met. National media followed me. Local media requested to interview me (stay tuned). It was an exciting week to say the least. 
  • I never want anyone to think I did that to disparage Heather Lyke. She had not been on the job for very long and clearly, from an outside perspective, something was wrong. But then, I wasn't on the outside. A close source tipped me off on some of the inner-workings of the coaching search and I had to go public with it. I stand by everything I said. 
  • I head Pat Santoro's interview on Takedown Wrestling on April 11th. Although he described the rumors circulating about his interest in the job as "in depth" and denied ever receiving a contract offer, nothing he said directly contradicts what I reported. I said the committee running the athletic department had the contract drawn up before Lyke took over. Not the same as offering it to Santoro. 
  • I know I said earlier there is no point in dwelling on any of this, but no one from Pitt has contacted me or refuted anything I've said, so I'm left with the assumption that I was right. 
  • Now that that's over, let's move on. 
  • It has been reported that Pitt wants to clean house. 
  • How will Keith Gavin fire these two?
Pitt Athletics

  • Not to mention, Kocher coached him at the Olympic Trials last summer.
  • How he chooses to complete his staff will definitely be intriguing.
  • This will most likely be my last folkstyle/college blog for a while... It's freestyle season!
  • If you're not from Pittsburgh, those roller coaster references are from Kennywood Park
  • As always, please share and thanks for reading.
Pitt Athletics

Thursday, March 30, 2017

For 'Nino', Pitt just too Close to Home

By Stephen Patrick

Santino 'Nino' Bonaccorsi ended his official high school career by losing in the state finals for the second year in a row. This season, he was defeated by Nazareth senior Travis Stefanik. His previous such loss came at the hands of Bethlehem Catholic standout Michael Labriola. All three of these wrestlers have something in common, besides occupying the top two spots on the Hershey podium for the past two seasons: Each of these well accomplished Pennsylvania seniors had the honor to represent Team Pennsylvania in the Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic this past weekend, Classic XLIII.

While Stefanik will take his talents east to Princeton, and Labriola west to Nebraska, Bonaccorsi will be staying right here. And why wouldn't he? The roots run just too deep.

credit: Barry Reeger Photo

As you may recall, it hasn't been long since a Bonaccorsi stepped on the mat at the Fitzgerald Field House. Just last year, Nino's older brother Nick was finishing his career for the Panthers. Next year, the younger of the siblings will be continuing his legacy. Or, perhaps, he will be starting his own.

"It was definitely cool seeing Nick wrestle here" Nino started when asked if he was looking to follow Nick's footsteps or forge his own path. He seemed to pause for a second though, his voice growing with excitement. "I was itching to get on that mat".

That mat.

How do you explain it?

Nino finished his illustrious career with no state titles. No, not how do you explain that. How do you explain how someone with no state titles could major someone with four. Is Pennsylvania that good? West Virginia, where his opponent Jacob Hart hails, borders PA on the southern and western fronts. Does the imaginary line drawn by politicians of generations past magically prevent talent from diffusing across state lines? Of course not. How do you explain one time PA champ Austin DeSanto majoring 4x California champ Justin Mejia? And California only has one division! How do you explain Darian Cruz, Zain Retherford, Jason Nolf and Vincenzo Joseph taking 40% of the NCAA titles this year? I guess Pennsylvania really is that good.

Next level

Academically and socially college is a step up from high school. In fact, in just about every aspect of life college is a step up from high school. With athletics though, it's even more than that. "It's another level".

I didn't wrestle in college. My brother did. All of my coaches did. A lot of my friends did. Seeing the product on the mat is one thing, the physicality, the intensity, but hearing the first hand accounts of practice and summer workouts and match preparation adds a deeper appreciation for the sport. Being behind the scenes in St. Louis I was privy to the warmup area and had the opportunity to watch some national champions before their matches. Their focus could cut diamonds. No, not before the finals; the first round, the second round, the quarters. There's no easy match in college. A first round match at NCAAs could feature two two-time state champs. An All-Star match in high school could be a 197 pound match in an Edinboro-Bloomsburg dual where the meet is already decided. Nino seems to appreciate the incoming challenge.

"It's another level...get a little tougher, little meaner on the mat".

He certainly has the right idea. While one would be hard pressed to qualify Nino's performance at the classic as "soft" or "nice", I've never heard stories of Bethel Park wrestlers breaking their ulna off the back of their drill partners head for not working hard enough like a certain national finalist once did. "Another level".


In addition to the aforementioned older brother recently graduating from Pitt, Nino has plenty more reasons to stay close to home. Nick will be staying close to Pitt's campus as he completes the police academy program. His parents still reside in Bethel Park. His cousin, Marc Allemang is the head coach at Mt. Lebanon.

Throughout his early years Nino could be seen training at Iron Horse wrestling club headed by Bryan Stout, the Pittsburgh Wrestling Club, and any other place he could get a workout. His father, Mark, was there every step of the way. And he will continue to be there for the next four years. Oh, yeah, there's another reason Nino chose the school he did.

"I love Pitt".

Opinions (Everyone has them)
  • Read these next two questions with the one rhetorically answering the other, like those old Geico commercials
  • Did Austin DeSanto have a chip on his shoulder after people questioned the legitimacy of his win over an ACL-deficient Spencer Lee? 
  • Did Spencer Lee think this was a takedown? 

  • I don't know what was going through DeSanto's mind. But he was sure wrestling like he had something to prove 
  • Where will Jarod Verkleeren end up now that he's been released by Iowa State
  • I doubt anywhere near Pitt
  • I bet we know who the Pitt coach is by the end of the day tomorrow
  • If it is someone from a different school, would any of his wrestlers transfer to Pitt to stay with their coach? Quite possibly
  • Would any high school seniors from the WPIAL, or anywhere for that matter, de-commit and switch to Pitt for the right coach? Quite possibly
  • Would any established college wrestlers having trouble breaking into the lineup at their respective school transfer to Pitt? Quite possibly
  • I was talking to my former coach, Coach Allemang, Nino's cousin, at the classic and his state final match came up. I said he has bigger things to accomplish now. He responded
  • "Yeah, like National titles" 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

NCAA Wrestling Opinions Piece

By Stephen Patrick

Opinions (Everyone has them)
  • Cael Sanderson pulled Mark Hall's redshirt late in the season because he thought Hall's additional team points compared to Geno Morelli's would be necessary to win the team title. He was clearly wrong, as Penn State dominated the team standings, without Nick Suriano, without a 133 pounder, and without Gulibon and McCutcheon placing. Hall burns a year of eligibility and Geno sits the rest of his senior season on the bench. I don't like it. Especially considering they have 8/10 starters returning next year. What was the rush? I bet in four years Penn State will wish they had Mark Hall for another season
  • Cael Sanderson did another thing I didn't like. Although this is purely speculative, it certainly appears that he waited until after the deadline to announce Suriano wouldn't be wrestling in order to prevent the bracket from changing. This would have moved Nick Piccininni to the 7 seed, or in other words, on the opposite side of Gilman. With PSU clearly viewing Oklahoma State as one of their main challengers for the team title, it looks as though they wanted to prevent Piccininni from an easier path to the semis. Again, this is purely speculative, but it looks bad and it forced another kid to stay home
  • Don't think the 34th wrestler admitted to the bracket would do anything? Cash Wilcke of Iowa was on account of Jake Smith's injury, and he made it to the round of 12. His team points, and the points he may have prevented other teams from scoring, were crucial in helping Iowa to get a trophy. Cael absolutely did the right thing by Penn State - which is his job - but I would have much rather seen a full bracket at 125
  • Navy, Northern Illinois, SIUE, Oregon State, Old Dominion, Appalachian State, Princeton, Stanford, Central Michigan, Wyoming, Rider, Edinboro, Rutgers, Northern Iowa, NC State, South Dakota State, Virginia, Lehigh, Wisconsin, Arizona State, Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, Cornell, Minnesota, Virginia Tech, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma State, Ohio State, and Penn State
  • Those are the teams that finished ahead of Pitt
  • Before the tournament I said Darian Cruz would be a tough match for Gilman based on conflicting styles. I didn't think he'd get two takedowns like that to win though. While I do feel bad for Gilman, he showed his true colors and good sportsmanship by coming out Saturday morning and beating Joey Dance in the consi-semis then almost majoring Piccininni in the 3rd place match. At the time, Iowa needed his team points, and he made his team proud. He also got a hearty, well deserved standing ovation
  • Gilman losing and Clark winning was the least probable outcome of Iowa's dynamic duo's semifinals. I would have easily predicted them both winning or Clark losing before that. Matness as they say
  • 125 Tim Lambert, 133 Mitch McKee, 141 Joey McKenna, 149 Anthony Collica, 157 Jake Short, 165 Anthony Valencia, 174 Zach Epperly, 184 Jack Dechow, 197 Matt McCutcheon, 285 Austin Schafer
  • If that was your team, do you think it'd be pretty good? Well, you would have finished with no All Americans, you would have scored 28.5 team points and you would have finished 16th in the team race. Not terrible, but with that lineup you would have easily been a favorite to place top 3. Just more proof of how tough this tournament is 
  • What can you say about Cory Clark's toughness? I'm certainly not a good enough writer to quantify it with words, so let's listen to what the man himself had to say

  • Indiana, Maryland, Penn, Campbell, Buffalo, Bucknell, American, Michigan State, North Carolina, Cleveland State, Lock Haven, Northwestern, Gardner-Webb, North Dakota State, Northern Colorado, Purdue, Eastern Michigan, Ohio, Army, CSU Bakersfield, Drexel, Utah Valley, Binghamton, Clarion, Columbia, Iowa State, West Virginia, Cal Poly, George Mason, Harvard, Kent State, Boise State, Brown, The Citadel and Chattanooga
  • Those are the teams that finished behind Pitt
  • Zain Retherford deserves, and will win the Hodge
  • Jason Nolf isn't far behind
  • Vincenzo Joseph was always one of my favorite wrestlers to watch in high school and I've always been very bullish on him. I predicted him to make the finals, and although I picked Martinez to win, I'm not surprised that he was able to pull off that amazing win
  • J'den Cox may be one of the best NCAA wrestlers of all time. 1st, 5th, 1st, 1st and an Olympic medal in between
  • I hope Kyle Snyder's rib injury isn't too bad. Would hate if he missed any freestyle competitions this summer 
  • Dom Forys, TeShan Campbell and Ryan Solomon will each All American next year
  • I would say Taleb Rahmani would too but I seriously don't know how the lineup is going to shake out with him and Jake Wentzel
  • This was my first trip to the NCAAs. During the finals they announced 3 gentlemen who have been to 65 straight NCAA tournaments. I hope to make 70
  • With his 5 champions, Cael moved past J Robinson (fired mid season) and Rob Koll on the active coaching leaders list. He is only behind John Smith. 32 to 18
  • Cael Sanderson is on his way to being the greatest coach in the history of NCAA wrestling
  • PA 40% of the champs. WPIAL 20% of the champs
  • Pitt's coaching search is ramping up...
  • Here are some pics I took

crowd waiting to get in before session 1

warmups before session 1
closeup of warmups
from the upper level

one of the early sessions from the press box

TV equipment

finals mat from the press box

Parade of All Americans from the press box

St. Louis City Hall

inside City Hall

looking up at the arch

the Arch from the 28th floor of the Courthouse
Busch Stadium from the same spot

the "Great Hall" in the library

the altar at the Christ Church Cathedral. It was built in 1908 in England and shipped to America in over 200 pieces, then reassembled.

  • Thanks for reading...
  • See you all in Cleveland!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

All Consis Now for Panthers

Pitt Wrestlers each go 1 and 1 on Day 1

Dom Forys, TeShan Campbell and Ryan Solomon each won then lost. Taleb Rahmani lost then won. They're all in the same round now: three wins away from the podium.

By Stephen Patrick 

Dom Forys, the 6 seed, started with the best chance to be Pitt's 77th All American. But as the clever switch of the "d" to the "t" in March Matness indicates, wrestling's post season is even more maddening than our winter sport counterparts'. Forget picking a perfect bracket, or ten. The 6 seed making it to the quarterfinals (or the 2 seed in Anthony Collica's case) is far from a guarantee. Hey, Earl Hall and Conor Youtsey are returning All Americans, and they both went 0-2! 

credit: Pitt Athletics

Forys' work is cut out for him now. He will have a winnable match vs Austin Eicher (Michigan State) first, but then the uphill battle begins. Following that, he will face the winner of returning All American Connor Schram (Stanford) and freshman stud Mitch McKee (Minnesota). Assuming he wins that, he will have the loser of the 1 vs 8 quarterfinal, which is sure to be Illinois 4th place finisher Zane Richards

Cliches exist for a reason. When athletes tell you they're going to take it "one match at a time" or "one inning at a time", they mean it. Without looking too far ahead, I asked co-Head Coach Drew Headlee for a scouting report on McKee and Schram.

According to the Headlee, McKee is good with crab rides and also solid on top and bottom. He has a lot of freestyle experience and "he's got some throws". He added that McKee is a "dangerous" wrestler, and if you recall Forys' round of 12 match last year, he's succumbed to throws before. Although Drew did not make the connection between McKee's and Earl Hall's style, (that was my analysis), he did contrast it with Schram's.

"Pretty straight forward, shoots a lot of single legs, Western PA boy". Being a Western PA boy himself, Drew added he has seen Schram wrestle a lot. Schram went 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 1st in PA states, and now may be one of the road blocks for yet another Western PA boy to join the ranks of All Americans.

Rahmani's funk prevails again

When the 157 bracket got re-drawn after Michigan's Brian Murphy had to withdraw, Taleb switched from having the 11 seed to the 7 seed in the first round. Not a big deal on paper, but this year's 7 seed is Dylan Palacio, who won five straight matches in last year's tournament, before losing to take 4th. Palacio was injured for most of the year, and only wrestled 11 matches before NCAAs. This surely hurt his seed, and in turn, hurt Taleb. Although Rahmani gave him a tough match, and nearly caught him as time expired, ultimately Palacio would come away with the major decision.

This set up a rematch from the Virgnia dual between Taleb and Andrew Atkinson. A back and forth affair that saw Rahmani pull out the 10-8 OT victory in the first encounter, the second meeting of these two would be no less exciting. Today saw an impressive display in opening aggressiveness, with Taleb getting a takedown only seconds in to the match. The next six minutes and forty seconds or so saw multiple flurries, backpoints, the ref missing Taleb's pin, scrambles, the ref missing another pin, etc. It was quite exciting.

His first match tomorrow will be a chance for revenge, as he'll square off against Josh Shields of Arizona State. Shields majored Taleb 12-3 at Midlands earlier this year, but a lot has changed since then. Taleb has been on quite a roll, and is an ACC champ. Drew Headlee agrees.

"He's come a long way since then".

Campbell and Solomon both fall to higher seeds

After both winning solid 4-0 and 4-1 wins respectively, TeShan and Ryan lost to higher ranked foes in the second round. Campbell's loss came to 7 seed Anthony Valencia (Arizona State) and Solomon's to 2 seed Connor Medbery (Wisconsin).

There isn't much to say about Solomon's loss: a 5-0 shutout in which neither wrestler took many shots or tried many moves. Although he kept good position and almost connected on a few snatch singles, in the end nothing would convert.

Campbell on the other hand, had a more action filled match and almost took the lead in the third period with a series of tilts, but like his teammate, would be unable to complete the scoring attempts.

Preparing for tomorrow 

Friday is by far the biggest day of the NCAA tournament, featuring the quarterfinals, the Bloodround and the semifinals. In order to reach the coveted podium, all four Panthers will have to win three consecutive matches.

"It's mostly about heart," Drew Headlee commented regarding the ability to pull off the aforementioned feat. "You came for one goal, to win a National title, and that dream is gone... and now you got to regroup and see what you're made of to come back and take third place".

The team will be refocusing tonight, zeroing in on what they have to do to accomplish their dreams. And although this tournament is full of outstanding athletes and winning those three matches is going to be extremely difficult, hey, "someone's gotta do it".

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Pitt Sends 4 to NCAAs

Forys, Rahmani, Campbell win ACCs; Solomon qualifies

Dom Forys, Taleb Rahmani and TeShan Campbell each won their first ACC tournament championship on Saturday and each automatically qualified for the NCAAs. Ryan Solomon also got an automatic bid after finishing third, the result of losing a dramatic overtime rematch with Jacob Kasper of Duke in the semifinals, then edging out two consolation victories over Mike Kosoy and Cory Daniel. Of note, heavyweight had the most qualifiers in the ACC with five; 157 was second with four. 

By Stephen Patrick

credit: Pitt Wrestling Instagram

Taleb Rahmani started his season getting majored by teammate Jake Wentzel in the Blue-Gold match. On Saturday he won the ACC tournament and majored redshirt senior Sal Mastriani, then the No. 16 wrestler in the country. Rahmani, the redshirt freshman from Marysville, Ohio and 4x state placer in Ohio (and 1x champ), has come into his own during the final stretch of the season with marquee wins over Andrew Atkinson and now Mastriani. In this weeks FloWrestling rankings, Taleb jumped to 17th, which is theoretically one spot out of a seed at nationals. I believe he will get the 16 seed, which is very important, as the 17 wrestlers not seeded in a bracket are randomly filled in. So, the difference between getting the 16 vs not seeded could be randomly getting the 33rd ranked wrestler in the first round or getting randomly put against Jason Nolf in the first round. No matter where Taleb falls on the championship side of the bracket, if he wants to All American this year he'll most likely have to win in the round of 12. 

The top 6 seeds at 157 are sure to be Nolf, Michael Kemerer, Joey Lavallee, Tyler Berger, Dylan Palacio, and Joe Smith. The odds of avoiding those 6 in the quarterfinals are nearly impossible as in order to face the 7 or 8 seed in the quarters, he would have to beat the 1 or 2 in the round of 16. Of course, winning in the quarter finals is so important because if you're able to accomplish that, you can finish no worse than 6th. 

Hypothetically, some of the names Taleb could have to beat in the round of 12 include Russell Parsons, Jake Short, Collin Heffernan, BJ Clagon and Josh Shields. All excellent, accomplished wrestlers, but also a slight tier below the upper class. Considering the way Taleb's been wrestling recently and with his "unorthodox" improvisations, can anyone honestly count him out? I'm not.

Forys Continues Dominance 

Dom Forys went undefeated in ACC duals during the regular season and nothing changed in Raleigh. He shutout 18th ranked Jamal Morris in the finals and majored him in the dual vs NC State. Dom is ranked 8th in every major wrestling rankings service, including the coaches poll and InterMat, whose rankings are used in this blog unless noted otherwise. The 9th ranked wrestler in that weight class is Scotty Parker of Lehigh, whom Dom has already beat. Common sense dictates and my opinion agrees, that Dom is Pitt's best bet to All American next week. Although finishing as high as possible is obviously the goal, history doesn't remember if you finished 6th or 8th, it only remembers you for what you are, an All American. Though the individual athlete may disagree, once you're on the wall in Pitt's room, the height of the block you stood on is largely a moot point. Coincidentally, finishing better than 8th for Dom, will be extremely difficult. See, in descending order: Eric Montoya, Stevan Micic, Cory Clark, Kaid Brock, Seth Gross and Nathan Tomasello

Based on a conversation I had with Dom way back in August, he may just prove me wrong.

Campbell Crowned 

TeShan Campbell also continued his tear in the ACC, extending from the regular season to the post, earning a major decision over Ray Bethea in the semis and shutting out Brian Hamann in the finals. TeShan is currently ranked 11th in the country, the only ACC wrestler to crack the top 20. If his path to the podium treks through the Bloodround like I suspect it will, some fellow 165 pounders he may have to best include: Dylan Cottrell, Chandler Rogers, Austin Matthews (already beat), and Brandon Womack. TeShan only has two losses on the season, one to Rodgers, and the other to 3rd ranked Vincenzo Joseph in the Keystone Classic finals. I peg TeShan with the second best chance to All American for Pitt, and in order to do it, he's going to have to beat one person better than/equal to him. Doesn't sound that hard, but there's a reason why the round of 12's nickname starts with the word "Blood". 

Opinions (Everyone has them)
  • Nick Zanetta must have been the last cut from 141. While the criteria is made public for at large selections, plugging in the numbers for every wrestler in the country would be a mammoth task. I don't know how much he missed by, but it couldn't have been much
  • Oklahoma State put all 10 of their starters in the Big 12 finals and all ten qualified for NCAAs. Additionally, a former Cowboy transfer, Keilan Torres qualified from Northern Colorado 
  • Ohio State won the Big Ten team title but Penn State was missing 1/10 of their lineup with Nick Suriano injury defaulting in the first round. If he's healthy for NCAAs (meaning he makes the finals like I think a healthy version of him would), Ohio State is going to have to make up the difference in order to repeat. They need Tomasello, Bo Jordan and Kyle Snyder to win. They need Micah Jordan, Myles Martin and Kollin Moore to place top 4. And they need top 12 performances from Jose Rodriguez and Luke Pletcher. Definitely possible
  • Gable Steveson, a high school senior from Apple Valley, Mn, won his 3rd state title recently, pinning his opponent in 10 seconds. If there comes a point where the second best wrestler in your state can't last longer than ten seconds against you, you shouldn't be wrestling in high school. As a country, we need to get our top freestyle prospects (Steveson is a cadet world champ) to the Olympic training center instead of wasting time in high school. Like Kyle Snyder. This would be a huge step towards climbing the world freestyle ladder. The US often places top 3 in Junior and Cadet Worlds but rarely in the Senior tournament. Somehow, somewhere, Russia and Iran are passing us, and close observation would lead me to believe it's in that 18-22 year old range. Draw your own conclusions 
  • This blog will serve as my ACC recap/NCAA preview combo. I know the brackets aren't out until tonight but the basic gist won't change
  • As always, thanks for reading...
  • See you all in St. Louis!