Pitt's Tyler Nauman and Ethan Headlee will be making their fourth appearance at the NCAA Division I wrestling tournament this week in St. Louis, but teammate Matt Wilps enters the competition with the highest seeding.
Wilps (30-3), a redshirt junior from Chartiers Valley High School, earned the No. 3 seed at 197 pounds after a 6-2 upset of Edinboro's previously unbeaten Christopher Honeycutt. Wilps had lost twice to Honeycutt by significant margins in the regular season.
"I got revenge," said Wilps, named Outstanding Wrestler after claiming his second Eastern Wrestling League tournament title. "I used a more aggressive style against Honeycutt in the rematch. I put a little more pressure on him to tire him out. The strategy worked to perfection."
Despite the upset, Honeycutt (36-1), a fifth-place NCAA finisher at 184 pounds last season, is seeded No. 2. Cornell's Cam Simaz (26-1), the bronze medalist last year at 197, is the top seed.
"It's nice to be seeded No. 3, but I'm trying not to think about it," Wilps said. "The competition in this tournament is so strong that you can't afford to look ahead. I realize that I might have another rematch with Honeycutt [if both make it to the semfinals], but I can't be concerned with that until it happens. I have to take it one match at a time."
Wilps will be joined at Scottrade Center by five Panthers teammates. Nauman (27-5) is seeded No. 6 at 149 pounds. The unseeded Headlee (15-7), a Waynesburg High School graduate, is a two-time EWL champion.
"[Nauman] is the first Pitt wrestler to win four EWL titles," Pitt coach Rande Stottlemyer said. "He also went unbeaten against EWL opponents during that stretch. That's pretty impressive."
Pitt's most surprising qualifier is P.J. Tasser (13-8), a redshirt sophomore from Belle Vernon who moved up three weight classes from 174 to heavyweight and placed third in the EWL tournament. Tasser weighed in just above the minimum of 183 pounds.
"It didn't surprise me," said Wilps of Tasser's impressive finish. "I wrestle him every day in the practice room and know what he is capable of. He's a very explosive wrestler. I think he will do well against the big guys."
Stottlemyer said defending champion Penn State will be hard to beat in the team competition. The Nittany Lions have nine qualifiers, including seven seeded among the top 10 in their weight classes, and three unbeaten top seeds.
"Penn State will be tough to beat with three No. 1 seeds," Stottlemyer said. "Top seeds score a lot of points. There will be some pretty good teams chasing them down, but I don't know if any team has Penn State's overall depth."
Penn State's three unbeaten top seeds are Frank Molinaro (28-0 at 149), David Taylor (27-0 at 165) and Ed Ruth (26-0 at 174). Molinaro and Taylor were silver medalists at 149 and 157 last season, while Ruth placed third at 174.
The unbeaten trio is joined by a returning NCAA champion and two local wrestlers. Quentin Wright (26-3) is defending champion at 184, but he is seeded sixth.
Franklin Regional graduate Nico Megaludis (24-7 at 125) and Shady Side Academy grad Frank Martellotti (8-9 at 133) are Penn State's entries from the WPIAL. Megaludis is seeded No. 10 in his weight class.
Penn State's Dylan Alton (24-5) is the No. 7 seed at 157, while Cameron Wade (25-4) is No. 6 at heavyweight.
Honeycutt is one of Edinboro's six entries and one of three who are seeded. A.J. Schopp (36-4) is No. 7 in the 133-pound weight class, while David Habat (35-6) is No. 9 at 149.
Clarion has four entries, and two are seeded. Bekzod Abdurakhmonov (31-4) is seeded No. 4 at 165 pounds, while James Fleming (27-2) is sixth at 157. Fleming, a West Mifflin graduate, is making his third NCAA appearance, while Abdurakhmonov is back for a second time.
Shaler's Nelson twins will represent the University of Virginia. Nick Nelson is making his third trip to the nationals, but brother Matt is making his debut after missing the past 57 months with a severe concussion.
"There are very few who have had to overcome what Matt has overcome over the past five years," Nick Nelson said. "Matt is one of the most mentally tough wrestlers I've ever met. He never gave up his dream of wrestling in the NCAA tournament.
"He will finally get the chance he's been waiting so long for. He's as hungry as any wrestler could be. Now it's time for him to seize the day."
Matt Nelson enters the 133-pound weight class with a 17-5 record, but is a longshot to place. He is not seeded among the top 12. Nick Nelson is No. 7 at 141 with a 25-2 record.
"We have a group of at least 15 family and friends who will be attending the tournament to cheer for us," Matt Nelson said.