The 2021 ACC finals with Nino Bonaccorsi (left) and Jay Aiello (Photo/Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
The Hoos travel north to face the Panthers in a match showcasing the coaching tree of Steve Garland--both Keith Gavin and Jordan Leen coached under Garland at UVA. This is quietly a very good dual and has some great matchups. Courtney/Phillippi could be a really fun match, so could Cedeno/Matthews, if Cedeno is back at 100%. Both NCAA finalists for the Panthers will face tough tests; Wentzel has McCoy and Bonaccorsi has Aiello. There are a lot of matches that I would consider a tossup in this dual--we'll see how big of a role the home mat advantage plays for Pitt.
125: Patrick McCormick vs. #31 Gage Curry
McCormick has had a rollercoaster of a season so far--last week at Virginia Duals captured that in a short period. He had matches against three ranked wrestlers, losing to Fabian Gutierrez and Anthony Noto, then beat Joey Prata the next day. Curry has been a stable force for the Panthers. He was initially splitting matches with Colton Camacho, but has taken the spot moving forward. He comes in at 10-6 with three of those losses to Brandon Courtney, Nick Suriano, and Malik Heinselman.
133: #24 Brian Courtney vs. #7 Micky Phillippi
This could be a great match, but it will all depend on the ability of either wrestler to break through the solid defense of the other. Both are funky and great counter wrestlers but have the ability to attack at a high rate when they want. Courtney comes in at 6-2 with a last-second loss to Chris Cannon. Phillippi is 9-3 with his losses to Lucas Byrd, Michael McGee and that end of match defensive pin when up against Malyke Hines. Phillippi started his career at UVA and went to Pittsburgh when Coach Gavin took over and Coach Leen joined the staff, so there is a lot of history in this match.
141: Dylan Cedeno vs. #20 Cole Matthews
Matthews might be the hottest wrestler in the country right now. He has won 5 in a row--4 pins and an 11-5 win over Stevan Micic. Cedeno has been very limited in his role this year due to injuries--he is sitting at 2-2 on the year. Before the season, Coach Garland said Cedeno was one to watch for and that his potential is through the roof--I'm hopeful he is able to get through this injury and finish the year on that trajectory.
149: #30 Jarod Verkleeren vs. Dan Mancini
The first match that clearly leans to the Hoos. Verk has looked great since transferring to UVA. He comes in at 15-4 with losses to Josh Heil, PJ Ogunsanya and Yahya Thomas. Mancini split time with Luke Kemerer to start the season but has assumed the full-time role; he comes in with an 11-8 record.
157: #28 Jake Keating vs. #21 Elijah Cleary
Sneaky good match here. Keating was out the first half of the season but is 8-2 since returning. Cleary is 12-4 with three of those losses to Jacori Teemer, Will Lewan and Josh Humphries. Cleary is a solid defensive wrestler, but has been showing more offensive power--especially in his run to the MatMen Open title. Keating can score in bunches and is great on top. I have been impressed with what I've seen from Keating since returning and with Cleary coming off two losses--albeit quality losses--I give Keating the slight edge here.
165: #15 Justin McCoy vs. #13 Jake Wentzel
This will be one of the marquee matchups of the dual; they have no previous meetings as McCoy moved up from 157 this season. Wentzel was an NCAA finalist last year and had a phenomenal season; this season has been a little more challenging for him, but he is still coming in with a 9-4 record. All four losses are to ranked opponents, including Anthony Valencia and Carson Kharchla. McCoy comes in undefeated at 10-0 and Wentzel will be the highest-ranked wrestler he has met this season. McCoy is great on his feet and has a solid top game. Wentzel loves control ties from neutral and is a punishing top wrestler. I've been looking forward to this match since I found out McCoy was moving up. I think this is a very intriguing matchup.
174: Justin Phillips vs. James Lledo
Lledo has dropped from 184 and made big noise last week with a pin that helped propel the Panthers to a win over Arizona State. He is 15-7 on the year and 4-1 since making the drop to 174. Phillips has held the starting spot most of the year and comes in with a 14-5 record. Both are great hand fighters and have high attack rates, so it has the potential to be a high-scoring affair.
184: #23 Michael Battista vs. #31 Gregg Harvey
This will be an important bout in determining the team winner for the dual. Harvey is 6-3 on the year with losses to Mark Hall, Zac Braunagel and Kaleb Romero. Battista is 11-1 on the year with his only loss to Kyle Cochran, who has been on a tear lately. Both are great neutral wrestlers who are very physical and have impressive gas tanks. I have been very impressed with Battista's ability to close matches this year; a huge improvement for him over previous seasons.
197: #11 Jay Aiello vs #9 Nino Bonaccorsi
The other marquee matchup of the dual will pit U23 teammates against each other. Aiello sat out the first half of the season, so he could slowly descend to 197 from his freestyle weight of 213lbs after winning a bronze medal at the U23 World Championships. Since returning, he is 7-0 with 3 falls. Nino was an NCAA finalist last season and comes in at 8-2 on the year with losses to Greg Bulsak and Patrick Brucki. Aiello has been aggressive and constantly on the offense since returning and is wrestling like a man on a mission. Bonaccorsi has wrestled very well and has been a huge part of the team success that Pitt has had so far this year. Nino holds the head-to-head edge with a decision in the dual last year and a major decision during his run at NCAAs last year. Nino has seemed to have Jay's number, but I could see a potential upset here.
285: #26 Quinn Miller vs. Jake Slinger
Miller has put together a quietly good season so far at 9-4. His losses include Wyatt Hendrickson and Lucas Davison. Slinger has been clutch for the Panthers, closing the door to win a few duals; he comes in with a 9-9 record. They are both very active heavyweights who can put up points, so this could be a fun matchup.