2012-13 Conference Preview: Pitt Panthers should prowl again in final EWL season

Updated: October 4, 2012

This is part of WIN’s on-going preseason look at all ten NCAA-qualifying conferences/tournaments.
Click here to read WIN’s other conference previews.

Qualifying Tournament for the NCAA:

March 9, 2013 @ Edinboro University in Edinboro, Pa.

Last Year’s EWL Finish in Clarion, Pa.:

1. Pittsburgh, 135.5; 2. Edinboro, 116.5; 3. West Virginia, 112; 4. Clarion, 91; 5. Bloomsburg, 89.5; 6. Lock Haven, 64.5; 7. Cleveland State, 23; 8. Millersville, 6.5.

Last Year’s EWL Performance in the NCAA Tournament:

Six programs sent 29 wrestlers to St. Louis last March, which was six more than what qualified for the 2011 NCAAs in Philadelphia. Pitt finished 15th, followed by Edinboro (17th), Clarion (18th), Bloomsburg (40th), West Virginia (43rd) and Lock Haven (59th). By the end of the 2012 Nationals, five wrestlers from the EWL stepped on the All-American platform; led by Edinboro’s Chris Honeycutt, who finished second at 197 pounds in his final NCAA tournament. Meanwhile both Pitt and Clarion each saw a pair of wrestlers finish in the Top 8: Pitt’s Matt Wilps (4th at 197) and Tyler Nauman (5th at 149); and Clarion’s Bekzod Abdurakhmanov (3rd at 165) and James Fleming (5th at 157). Only Wilps and Fleming return in 2012-13.

2012-13 Note: The EWL will be without West Virginia, which is now competing in the Big 12. Meanwhile, Millersville is dropping down to NCAA Division II after competing in the EWL for one season.



Pitt’s Matt Wilps (top) defeated Edinboro’s All-American Chris Honeycutt in the finals of the Eastern Wrestling League tournament last March. (WrestlersareWarriors/Tony Rotundo image)

1. Pittsburgh — The Panthers — winners of the last two Eastern Wrestling Leagure championships — will continue to compete in the EWL before the Pitt program starts competing in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013-14.

And coach Rande Stottlemyer — beginning his 32nd year at his alma mater — features a returning All-American in Matt Wilps, who defeated Edinboro’s Chris Honeycutt in last year’s EWL tournament before finishing third at the NCAAs in St. Louis. Other returning national qualifiers from 2012 are 125-pound senior Anthony Zanetta (29-6 last year) and 133-pound junior Shelton Mack (23-10), who helped Pitt finish 19th as a team.

Meanwhile, the Panthers feature a pair of brothers, sophomore Max and senior Zac Thomusseit, natives of St. Paris, Ohio, who both have NCAA experience but redshirted last year after each suffered season-ending injuries early in the year.

Max (184) was an EWL runner-up in 2011 when he also qualified for the NCAAs and was named EWL Freshman of the Year. Zac, meanwhile, is moving up to heavyweight after qualifying for the NCAAs at 184 pounds in 2010 and 197 pounds 2011, when he won his only EWL title.

2. Edinboro — In 2012, senior Chris Honeycutt left St. Louis with the Scot’s only All-American honor. But there is a bright horizon at this Pennsylvania school after coach Tim Flynn — beginning his 16th year at the helm — turned to a handful of freshmen to help his team finish with a 9-4 dual mark last winter.

And four of those youngsters qualified for the NCAAs, including 133-pound A. J. Schopp, whose 39 victories were the most of any Division I wrestler at that weight. Meanwhile, two other Edinboro freshmen, 141-pound Mitchell Port (30-10) and 149-pound David Habat (36-8) also recorded over 30 wins. The last of this young NCAA quartet was Victor Avery, who finished 24-15 at 184 pounds.

Flynn also returns one other NCAA qualifier, junior heavyweight Ernest James, who finished 30-12 and finished second in the EWL tournament.

3. Clarion — For a third straight year, the Eagles will be led by a different head coach as Troy Letters — the former Lehigh national champion — replaces Matt Dernlan, who spent just one season at Clarion. Letters inherits a team which sent four wrestlers to the NCAAs; two of whom return in 2012-13: 157-pound senior All-American James Fleming and 184-pound senior Steven Cressley.

Fleming, a native of West Mifflin, Pa., has qualified for three national tournaments, including 2010 when he was a 149-pound freshman and last year when he finished fifth at 157 pounds. Overall, his career mark is 92-16. Cressly, meanwhile, turned in a 17-16 record and third-place finish in the EWL tournament.

4. Bloomsburg — Other than 197 pounds, no other weight class was more competitive in the Eastern Wrestling League than 157 pounds, where the Huskies’ Frank Hickman maintained his rivalry with Clarion’s Fleming. Hickman, a junior from Castle Hayne, N.C. reached the quarterfinals of last year’s NCAAs but didn’t end up placing. The Huskie also competed in the 2011 Nationals as did senior teammate Mike Dessino, who won an EWL championship at 174 pounds two years ago and was second in 2012.

Head coach John Stutzman, beginning his eighth year at the helm, also returns two other NCAA competitors: 149-pound Bryce Busler and 197-pound Richard Perry. Busler was 27-12 last season, while Perry led the Huskies with a 33-12 mark.

5. Lock Haven — Head coach Robbie Waller sent two wrestlers to the 2012 NCAAs: Owen Wilkinson (149) and Seth Creasy (174), but neither Eagle wrestler returns this year. But Waller does feature talented wrestlers in 125-pound sophomore Bobby Rehm and 157-pound Aaron Fry. Rehm finished third in last year’s EWL tournament while Fry was named the most improved wrestler for Lock Haven.

6. Cleveland State — Ben Stehura begins his fourth year at the helm but looks to find a Viking to qualify for this year’s Nationals after lacking a qualifier in 2012. CSU’s best postseason performances last winter came from Corey Carlo (third at 165) and Ben Willeford (fifth at 125) who return in 2012-13.