Five WPIAL graduates advance to NCAA wrestling semifinals; Vincenzo Joseph, Joshua Shields to meet
Joshua Shields ticked through a long list of wrestlers he battled at Young Guns Wrestling Club before his college days.
To name a few: Jason Nolf, Vincenzo Joseph, Sam Krivus, Luke Pletcher, A.C. Headlee, Mike Kemerer, Spencer Lee, Devin Brown, Micky Phillippi, Gavin Teasdale.
“You couldn’t go into that practice room thinking you were just going to get a light workout in, and I’m going to put it on some kids,” said Shields, a redshirt junior at Arizona State and Franklin Regional graduate.
A handful of those wrestlers, Shields included, are now putting it on some of the best in the country, and now he and Joseph will get to relive one of their former club practices in the NCAA wrestling semifinals.
Five former WPIAL wrestlers — Joseph, Shields, Nolf, Lee and Pletcher — advanced to the national semifinals after winning quarterfinal bouts Friday morning at PPG Paints Arena.
The Friday night bouts will be highlighted by a meeting between Shields and Central Catholic graduate Joseph, a Penn State redshirt junior and two-time defending NCAA champion, in the 165-pound semifinals.
“I used to hate (wrestling friends),” said Shields, a returning All-American who made it to the semifinals for the first time. “It used to always get in my head (because) we’re such good friends. I used to think, oh, we’re such good buddies, it’ll be a fun match.
“But in reality, you’ve got to be going out there trying to put your foot on their throat every single time. And after the match you can shake hands and (say) good job. It used to get to me, but not anymore. I’ve come a long way since high school and my freshman year in college when you could see it would get to me.”
Shields advanced to the semifinals with a 6-0 win over Northern Iowa’s Bryce Steiert. Joseph beat Nebraska’s Isaiah White, 3-1, with a takedown in sudden victory overtime.
The two former WPIAL wrestlers are the top-ranked competitors remaining in the 165-pound bracket after No. 1 seed Alex Marinelli of Iowa lost in the quarterfinals to Virginia Tech’s Mekhi Lewis. No. 2 Joseph and No. 3 Shields will battle for a spot in Saturday night’s championship round.
“It’s exactly how I wanted it to be,” said Shields, who lost to Joseph, 11-2, in a mid-December dual match. “I wouldn’t want anybody else in the semis: a two-time defending national champ. I love to test myself. I wrestled him earlier in the year and he caught me, beat me pretty good. I’mreally excited to go out there and make a statement, see how far I’ve come.”
The Shields/Joseph battle will be the second notable all-WPIAL match of the day between former practice partners: Pletcher, an Ohio State junior and Latrobe graduate, beat Phillippi, a Pitt redshirt freshman and Derry graduate, 3-1, in the 133-pound quarterfinals Friday morning.
“Back in the semifinals,” said Pletcher, who finished fourth in the country last season and faces top-seeded Daton Fix of Oklahoma State Friday night. “Definitely don’t want what happened last year.”
Kittanning graduate Nolf, a Penn State senior, continued his dominance of the NCAA tournament as he seeks his third national title. Nolf, the top seed at 157 pounds, beat Arizona State’s Christian Pagdilao with a 23-6 technical fall during the quarterfinals.
Iowa sophomore Lee, a former teammate of Shields’ from their Franklin Regional days, continued his defense of his 125-pound title by pinning Minnesota’s Sean Russell in the quarterfinals.
“That’s just my mindset,” Lee said, of wrestling aggressively. “I want to tech and pin everybody. That’s kind of how I’ve always been. Now that’s not the most realistic thing in the world ‘cause your opponent wants to win too, right? But I feel like if you have that mindset and continue to score points, then techs and pins will come.”
Lee, the No. 3 seed at 125, will wrestle No. 2 Nick Piccininni of Oklahoma State in the semifinals. Piccininni pinned Lee in a dual earlier this season.
It will be Lee’s second rematch of the day: He beat Russell twice earlier this season.
“You’ve just to wrestle the whole time and just not focus on what he’s good at,” Lee said. “You’ve got to be aware of it because people are good at what they’re good at. That’s why they’re here, it’s why they’re at the national tournament. But you’ve got to focus on what you’re good at and get to your offense and your points and wrestle hard.”
Three ex-WPIAL wrestlers lost their quarterfinal matches — Phillippi at 133 pounds and Pitt’s Nino Bonaccorsi (Bethel Park) and Virginia Tech’s Zack Zavatsky (Latrobe) at 184 pounds. They’ll wrestle Friday night in the consolation bracket’s “blood round,” where winners clinch a top-eight finish and All-American status.
The semifinals and blood round will begin at 8 p.m. Friday at PPG Paints Arena.