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No. 2-ranked Wilps powers strong Pitt grapplers

| Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013, 10:16 p.m.
Matt Wilps celebrates his victory over Missouri's Brent Haynes in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Courtesy Pitt Athletics

If there were any doubts about Matt Wilps' ability to compete at the highest collegiate level, they've been erased.

Wilps, a senior on the No. 12 Pitt wrestling team, is ranked No. 2 nationally with some impressive results on his resume. Wilps has already pinned Penn State's Quentin Wright, the No. 3-ranked wrestler and the 2011 national champ at 184 pounds. At the Midlands tournament, Wilps lost a 4-2 decision to Kent State's Dustin Kilgore, the 2011 NCAA champion at 197 pounds, who also finished fourth in last year's Olympic trials.

With those results in mind, Pitt coach Rande Stottlemyer thinks big things are ahead for the Chartiers Valley graduate.

“He's dangerous. I don't want to say he's a dark horse, because he showed his wares wrestling the guy from Kent State — that guy kind of wallops everybody — but that was a two-point match at Midlands and, trust me, it could have gone either way,” Stottlemyer said. “We're looking forward to sharpening the knife for next time and get that for him.”

Wilps is no stranger to the big stage, having made it to the NCAA championships twice, including a fourth-place finish last year.

“I'm still learning, always learning, always trying to get in better shape, trying to get stronger,” Wilps said. “So I'm still improving but execution, at the top level, it's a lot of execution, making it happen, showing what you have. I can do it. I just need to show that I can.”

Stottlemyer doesn't think Wilps needs to change much for national success.

“The biggest thing is he's taken ownership of it himself. He wants to be good,” Stottlemyer said. “He's looking at video all the time; he's asking questions. You'd think a fifth-year senior knows everything, but you know what? He knows better.”

Wilps could be joined at nationals by his younger brother, Tyler, who is ranked 14th at 165 pounds. Despite a difference of about 30 pounds, the brothers occasionally square off in practice.

Said Matt: “He's tough, man. He gets me frustrated, but I'll still toss him around.”

A loss to teammate Geno Morelli in wrestle-offs helped turn around the season for Tyler Wilps.

“I almost needed that loss to be like, ‘OK, it's time to get serious and really focused,' “ he said. “That was the biggest highlight, seeing that change and me become a much better wrestler than I was last year.”

It could be even more of a family affair at NCAAs this March in Des Moines, Iowa. Pitt has two other sets of brothers: Zac and Max Thomusseit and P.J. and Donnie Tasser (Belle Vernon).

In Stottlemyer's dream scenario, there would be a large contingent of Panthers at NCAAs.

“We want to take all 10. Are all 10 going to go? I don't know, but that's our goal,” he said. “It won't be easy. Maybe we get six. Maybe we get seven or eight. But our goal is to try and get everybody there.”

Mike Palm is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mpalm@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MikePalm_Trib.

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