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The Pitt Panthers are Building Something Special at Fitzgerald Field House

A look inside Fitzgerald Field House on campus at the University of Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy of the Pitt Sports Information.

The 2021 COVID-19-influenced wrestling season for the Pitt Panthers was one of both ups and downs.

Pitt finished the regular season at (3-4, 1-4 ACC) as a team. The Blue and Gold also took fifth out of six at the 2021 ACC Championships in late February in Raleigh, North Carolina.

By the time NCAAs rolled around, the Panthers were battle-tested, to say the least, having overcome injuries, coronavirus issues, and more.

Still, Pitt head coach Keith Gavin led Pittsburgh to its best NCAA team finish (11th place) since 1970. Five Panthers qualified for nationals and earned team points at Enterprise Center in St. Louis. Each 2021 NCAA qualifier will return for 2021-22, including NCAA finalists Nino Bonaccorsi (197) and Jake Wentzel (165).

In 2021, Gavin and company found a way to perform best when the lights were brightest, and they have carried that same momentum into their offseason recruiting efforts as well.

Earlier this week, Friday, May 14, the University of Pittsburgh wrestling program confirmed the signings of two winning and veteran student-athletes as transfers, coach Gavin announced in an official release.

Two-time Florida state champion and Big Ten veteran Elijah Cleary and Pittsburgh native and four-time NCAA qualifier Gage Curry will join the Panthers for the 2021-22 season. Both Clear and Curry made TOM’s All-Transfer Team from earlier this offseason.

With Cleary and Curry each expected to earn spots in the starting lineup at 125 and 157, respectively, that means as many as six 2021-22 Panther starters could be entering their fifth or sixth seasons of NCAA competition in Micky Phillippi (133), Gregg Harvey (184), Wentzel (165), Cleary (157), Curry (125), and Bonaccorsi (197). Also, these two transfers last competed at weights where Pitt grapplers recorded overall losing records last season.

Similarly, as InterMat pointed out in an article of their own earlier this week, Pitt has amassed a small but talented crop of Class of 2021 recruits, many of whom are local preps from the Keystone State, including: Luca Augustine – Waynesburg, PA (174); Brock McMillen – Glendale, PA (141); Ethan Finch – Sheffield, PA (197); Cole Hivnor – Lake Catholic, OH (184); Emory Taylor – McCallie School, TN (149/157); and Briar Priest – Hempfield School, PA (125/133).

Whether Pitt will be able to compete with ACC juggernauts NC State and Virginia Tech next year remains to be seen. That said, with more than five months left in the offseason, the Panthers have added significant experience and depth to its starting 10. Gavin and company are well on their way to proving that the famed Penn State Nittany Lion program isn’t the only elite Power Five wrestling program in the Keystone State.

Big things are ahead for this Pitt Panther program, which is coming off its highest national finish in more than 50 years. No one is more excited for the 2021-22 season than reigning 165-pound ACC champ and NCAA finalist Wentzel, who spoke with PA Power Wrestling this weekend. 

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