When Pitt wrestler Taleb Rahmani was talking to former Panthers coach Matt Kocher last week, he was looking for one final piece of advice before the NCAA Wrestling Tournament. Kocher found just the right words.
“He told me, ‘Compete like it’s your last time,’ “ said Rahmani, who is the No. 12 seed in the 157-weight class.
“That first match (Thursday, a 7-1 loss to 21st-seed Justin Thomas of Ohio), I didn’t compete like that. After that it’s been my mindset.”
As a result, Rahmani (19-7) is one of three Pitt wrestlers still alive in the wrestlebacks that resume Friday night at PPG Paints Arena. Rahmani attacked the consolation round with a purpose, defeating Ohio State’s Ke-Shawn Hayes (No. 11), 7-1, and avenging an earlier loss by pinning Purdue’s Griffin Parriott (No. 19). If he stretches his winning streak to three by beating No. 9 Christian Pagdilao of Arizona State, Rahmani will earn All-American status.
Rahmani didn’t want to speculate on what that would feel like.
“I haven’t done it yet. I’ll let you know afterwards,” he said.
But he knows this much: “If I lose, I’m done for this year and I don’t want to be done,” he said.
Rahmani said he learned from his 5-3 loss to Parriott in the Las Vegas Invitational in December.
“In Vegas, I was hanging out in ties too much and he slowed me down,” he said. “(Friday), he was attempting more and I was able to shut him down and frustrate him a little. But that was more of my game plan — to frustrate him.”
At 133 pounds, Pitt will meet Penn State when Derry graduate and Pitt redshirt freshman Micky Phillippi (21-3), the No. 4 seed, tangles with No. 10 Roman Bravo-Young (24-5). Phillippi lost to No. 5 seed Luke Pletcher of Ohio State, 5-3, in the quarterfinals after a 4-2 victory against Fresno State’s Gary Joint, the No. 29 seed. Bravo-Young is 2-0 in the wrestlebacks with 6-3 and 3-1 decisions against No. 9 Charles Tucker of Cornell and No. 15 Ben Thornton of Purdue.
At 184, Pitt redshirt freshman Nino Bonaccorsi of Bethel Park almost had a Penn State matchup of his own, but the Nittany Lions’ second-seeded Shakur Rasheed lost in the wrestlebacks to No. 26 Dakota Geer of Oklahoma State, 4-2. Rasheed is 20-2, with both losses coming in this tournament.
So, Bonaccorsi gets a break – the 26 seed Geer, instead of No. 2 Rasheed.
Bonaccorsi (21-7 and the No. 13 seed)) won two matches in the first and second rounds before losing his quarterfinal match to No. 5 Maxwell Dean of Cornell, 6-0..
Two other Pitt wrestlers lost in the wrestlebacks, ending their NCAA tournament experience.
At 197, No. 23 seed Kellan Stout of Mt. Lebanon lost to No. 10 Tom Sleigh of Virginia Tech, 2-1, and No. 26 Anthony McLaughlin of Air Force, 4-2, to finish the season at 12-10.
Junior Demetrius Thomas, the ACC heavyweight champion and the No. 8 seed, was 1-2 in the tournament, defeating Iowa State’s Gannon Gremmel, 11-7, and losing to Central Michigan’s Matt Stencel, 17-9. In the wrestlebacks, Thomas lost to No. 26 seed Ian Butterbrodt of Brown, 15-7. Thomas finishes the season 27-6.