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One More Chance for Micky Phillippi

Pittsburgh's two-time ACC champion Micky Phillippi (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)

Micky Phillippi has had a slightly different journey through his college wrestling experience than most. As he enters his final season for the Panthers, we discussed his time spanning seven seasons, two schools, four NCAA tournament qualifications, two degrees, three bloodround losses and one recent marriage.

Phillippi was a highly sought-after recruit coming out of high school. He was a three-time PA State Champion and put together a career record of 170-12 with wins in prestigious tournaments across the country. He signed with the Virginia Cavaliers and made the move to Charlottesville to join the Hoos. "When I visited UVA and met Coach Garland, it just felt right…with Steve and Jordan (Leen) and Keith (Gavin) as the staff, it just felt like a family and that they really cared about you." Phillippi had a solid redshirt season for the Cavaliers, finishing with a 25-8 record that included a win over All-American Sa'Derian Perry and close losses to multiple-time All-Americans Kaid Brock and Zane Richards. Philippi felt good about his growth on the mat and as a student, but didn't feel that Charlottesville was the right place for him. "The biggest thing was that I was homesick. I come from a big family and it's really important to me--and I wanted to be closer to them."

The timing of his decision to leave UVA came with a feeling of serendipity; Keith Gavin was named Head Coach at Pittsburgh in the spring of 2017 and tabbed Jordan Leen as his Associate Head Coach. This made Phillippi's decision to return home to Pittsburgh much easier and allowed him to continue to work with two coaches with whom he had developed very strong relationships.

"Coming back to Pittsburgh was like an immediate weight off my shoulders. I get to be close to my family and see my nieces and nephews whenever I want and that is very important to me."

At the time of his transfer, he was forced to sit out a year due to the intra-conference transfer and would wrestle a second season unattached. He had another strong season in 2018 going 17-3 with his only losses being to All-Americans Scott DelVecchio and Vito Arujau who competed for Spartan RTC in his greyshirt year.

In his first season in the Panther lineup, Phillippi made his presence known to the country at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas where he beat All-Americans Ethan Lizak and Luke Pletcher--who is now an Assistant Coach at Pittsburgh. He fell to Nick Suriano, who would go on to be a National Champion that season, in the finals.

"That was the first moment where I could really say that I could beat anyone and that I was totally confident in my technical skills," said Phillippi of his CKLV breakthrough.

If his performance at the CKLV wasn't enough to get him in the national spotlight, his 3-1 win over three-time NCAA finalist Daton Fix in the Panther's dual against Oklahoma State did the trick. He added a dual win over All-American Louie Hayes and beat multiple-time All-Americans Tariq Wilson and Korbin Myers to win his first ACC Championship.

He entered his first NCAA tournament as the 4-seed and beat Gary Joint (Fresno St) and All-American Austin Gomez (then at Iowa State) for a quarterfinal rematch with long-time rival Luke Pletcher. "Simply, I let the moment get too big", said Phillippi, "I've wrestled Luke so many times and we always had good matches, but I made the quarterfinal match way bigger than I should have and that played a big part in the loss." Phillippi dropped to the bloodround where he matched up with Roman Bravo-Young. "It was a close match and I didn't pull it out--I usually win close matches, but I didn't get that one. Looking at it now with him being a two-time national champ it doesn't look like such a bad loss!"

Phillippi entered the 2019-2020 season with a hunger coming off of his bloodround loss. "I was ready to go that year, I felt good physically and mentally and I had a great season". Phillippi put together a nearly flawless regular season, going 23-1 with his lone loss to Sammy Alvarez at the Southern Scuffle. He would go on to beat Louie Hayes and Jaime Hernandez to win his second-straight ACC title and earned the fourth seed for the second straight year going into the NCAA tournament.

"Once we started seeing other sports shut down, you could kind of sense that it was coming, but I didn't want to believe it," said Phillippi of the 2020 NCAA Tournament cancellation due to the COVID shutdown. "We didn't have a lot of information and no one really knew what was happening, so I just kept training…I trained through the summer and into the fall and stayed in great shape and ready. I was hoping we were going to find a way to run it back in the fall and get everyone together for the tournament."

Pittsburgh's two-time ACC champion Micky Phillippi (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)

The reality was that the tournament would never happen, and it left Phillippi even more determined going into the 2020-2021 season. In the minimized season, Phillippi was undefeated going into the ACC Championships. He knocked off Louie Hayes in the semifinals, but fell in a close match to Korbin Myers in the ACC finals; both Hayes and Myers would go on to earn All-American honors this season.

Philippi entered the NCAA tournament as the fifth seed. He earned a major decision over Ty Smith (Utah Valley) before knocking off ACC-foe Jarrett Trombley (NC State) 6-1 to face Austin DeSanto (Iowa) in the quarterfinals. "I felt great going into the quarters, I'd been there before and felt confident. Once I got in the match I didn't have the right focus and it didn't go well."

Phillippi dropped to DeSanto by major, making his second year in a row losing in the quarterfinals and dropping straight into the bloodround. He faced seventh-seeded Lucas Byrd (Illinois) in the blood round and dropped an absolute heartbreaker in Sudden Victory. "There wasn't a good reason; I didn't lock down mentally and it cost me," Phillippi said bluntly about his second loss in the bloodround.

Entering the 2021-2022 season, his sixth year of eligibility, Phillippi felt good about the potential for the year, both personally and for the team. This year would be a challenge; however. Phillippi dropped five matches in the regular season; more than his previous three seasons as a starter combined. "I took some losses that I shouldn't have last year, but I was progressing as a wrestler, so I didn't see it as a negative…I was working closely with Jordan and Keith to be ready for the tournament, so the dual matches weren't a big deal."

He entered the ACC tournament with a 13-5 record and avenged one of those losses on his way to another ACC finals matchup with Korbin Myers. Phillippi and Myers had another tight match, as had become the custom over the past three years, with Myers pulling out a 4-2 decision to win his second-straight ACC Championship. This loss dropped Phillippi to 2-2 in ACC finals; he is a four-time finalist and two-time ACC Champion.

Despite the loss, Phillippi was confident entering the tournament in Detroit. He opened with a 4-0 win over a scrappy Codi Russell (App State) to set up a rematch with Austin DeSanto. "I was 100% sure I would beat DeSanto…and I didn't".

In a much tighter match than their previous quarterfinal matchup, DeSanto would earn a decision victory. After a scoreless first, Phillippi had a strong ride to gather over a minute in riding time before a DeSanto escape. "It was going to plan, I had riding time, and I thought I could finish out the second and get an escape in the third to get a 2-0 or 1-0 win. But I tried to hang on in the second instead of finishing out the period and those last 20 seconds cost me."

DeSanto scored a takedown at the end of the second to take a 3-0 lead. In the third, Phillippi scored an escape but DeSanto added a second takedown to finish the 5-2 win and drop Phillippi to the consolation bracket. "Those matches are so big and the littlest things make the difference. I lost my focus at the end of the second and it changed the match."

He would win back-to-back matches in the consolation bracket over Joey Olivieri (Rutgers) and Richie Koehler (Rider) to make his third straight bloodround appearance. For the third straight season, it would end abruptly for Phillippi, losing by fall to Chris Cannon (Northwestern).

"Obviously it's not the legacy I want to have", said Phillippi on his bloodround losses. "I feel like I can be a National Champion and I have one more chance to prove that." As he reflected on those matches you could see a strange mix of frustration and contentment. "It's a tough subject. It's such a high-pressure round--win or lose--it's hard to describe the feeling".

Phillippi has leaned on his relationship with Coach Gavin and Coach Leen to grow from the experience. "Coach Gavin summed it up really well for me after this last loss. I'm confident in my skills and my technical ability. I can't make the moment bigger than it is. 'Just wrestle. It's not a big deal' is the advice Keith gave me and I need to remember that this year. At the end of the day, I'm ok with it mentally and God has a plan for me. I'm going to win." Phillippi credits Coach Gavin and Coach Leen for the role they have played in his personal and spiritual growth throughout their time together. "They are both such great leaders and they show it in different ways through their personalities. I'm happy for Jordan with his new job, but I'm going to miss having him in my corner for this season", Phillippi said about Jordan Leen being named Head Coach at Brown, "I have no doubt he'll do well.

Phillippi and his longtime teammate Nino Bonaccorsi both elected to come back for their final season of eligibility this year. They will be the core leaders of a strong team with a mix of credentialed veterans and high-upside young guys. "Our coaches have built a great culture. I believe that if you build a good culture, success will follow and that is what we are seeing now."

He points to the culture as the reason that Pittsburgh has been so successful on the recruiting trail. "We've got some incredible young guys coming into the lineup, Brock McMillen does the right things and lives the right life and he is going to be successful because of that… People have heard the name Luca Augustine after his performance this spring, but he's going to make an impact this year". Phillippi spoke highly of the recruits that Coach Gavin has brought in the past two seasons. "We are in a great place as a team and we are going to have a great season. I think we'll be fighting for an ACC title."

Pittsburgh's two-time ACC champion Micky Phillippi (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)

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