Joe Tauber, a Washington, D. C. attorney assigned to referee the contest by the Eastern Wrestling League, WVU and Pitt's home conference, showed up 49 minutes late. If that weren't bad enough, he seemed to be trying to defeat West Virginia all by himself, without any help from the Panthers.
Tauber's inefficiency cost NCAA qualifier and co-captain Seth Lisa his match, and he cost other of WVU's wrestlers a number of individual points, which would have resulted in team points as well.
"[Tauber] called me at 6:00 this evening," said WVU head coach Craig Turnbull, "and told me he was 2 ½ hours from Morgantown." The meet was scheduled to begin at 8:00 p.m. "He asked what he should do. I told him to keep driving, that I would call the League office and see if they could send someone else. If they could, I would call him back and tell him to turn around. Otherwise, he should just keep driving."
Greg Jones, confirming that he's successfully made the transition from player to assistant coach, added, "I'm sure that officiating is a very difficult job and he did his best. It was fun to get the crowd into it so much."
The crowd of 1,051 was indeed into the action, as was the WVU bench. After Seth Lisa's loss at 133, leaving the Mountaineers with a 7-0 deficit, his teammates went on the attack, wrestling much more aggressively than they have thus far this season. They had a new attitude. No one disrespects their co-captain and gets away with it.
True freshman Brandon Rader, ranked 17th in the country, stepped onto the mat after the Lisa robbery to face fifth-year senior Ron Tarquinio, rated #8 in the 141 pound weight class. Despite several missed calls during his match, Rader came away with an 8-2 upset, swinging momentum the Mountaineer way. Tauber even refused to allow Rader to look toward the WVU bench to receive instructions from his coach during a break in the action. The angry spectators became so loud that the match's ending whistle could not be heard at courtside.
"Rader had a tremendous match," Turnbull beamed. "His opponent won the Las Vegas Invitational last year and the Southern Scuffle this year. Pitt is looking for him to be an All-American. Brandon lost to him in overtime at Las Vegas this year. Brandon did not practice the last two weeks, but he was excited to wrestle tonight. His win was critical."
And so the victory parade began. Another freshman, David Jauregui, followed up with a relentless, focused, determined success at 149. Jauregui is starting to look a little like a young Greg Jones; he has that same fierceness, that fire in the eyes. "We expected to forfeit at 149," Coach Turnbull revealed. "Jauregui tore muscle in his elbow on Sunday and couldn't even hold a coffee cup. As late as last night, we didn't think he would be able to go tonight. His victory was just as tremendous as Brandon's."
Next up was #2 rated Matt Lebe, at 157. Twice during the match, Lebe signaled to the referee that his opponent was executing an illegal hold that left Lebe unable to breathe. The referee took no action. The sturdy Mountaineer continued to a calm, efficient 9-5 win.
At 174, Kurt Brenner squeaked by with a 3-2 final over Pitt's Nick Padezan. Brenner, too, signaled the official that his opponent was choking him, and again, no call was made. After Brenner extracted himself and went on the offensive, it appeared that he had Padezan pinned at least three times, but gained not so much as one point from the referee. The crowd grew furious, and when Brenner's bloody nose required a pause in the action, Craig Turnbull marched out to the center of the match to argue with the referee on his wrestler's behalf. Tauber walked away from Turnbull, so the Mountaineer leader followed him to the sideline, unwilling to abandon his cause. Brenner ended up with a 3-2 victory that should have been at least a 6-2 win, if not a fall.
Parkersburg's Chance Litton (184) wrestled the match of his young career soon thereafter. After a good week of practice, the true freshman has started to blossom. "This was a big match tonight," he smiled. "Pitt is always higher intensity, but my roommate Brandon [Rader] really set the tone. I had to follow."
WVU's lone starting sophomore, Jared Villers, capped the evening's effort with a splendid assault on Pitt's Mike Heist at 197. Before two minutes of the first period were completed, Villers held a 7-0 lead. A spectator, concerned that the referee had missed yet another call, shouted, in mid-match, "Wake up, Ref!" Tauber looked up, shot daggers into the crowd, and missed a good five to seven seconds of the match. When he did indeed wake up, Villers glided to a 16-0 technical fall with 47 seconds remaining in the second period.
"I've been trying to focus on being more aggressive," Villers said. "I want to take control, to wrestle my style, attack first, not react." When asked about the controversial officiating, he was politic. "I guess he had a tough trip. It took him a while. He started to make better calls as the evening went on. It didn't affect the team. We kept our focus."
West Virginia, wrestling six freshmen, one sophomore, one junior, and two seniors, goes to 4-4 on the season, and 3-0 in EWL action. Pitt, mired in a five-match losing streak, drops to 3-7 (0-3). The Mountaineers wrap up their home schedule on Saturday, February 11, against Lock Haven.
125. Brad Gentzle, Pitt, maj. dec. over Scott Stuart, WVU, 14-4
133: Mike Ciotti, Pitt, 8-2 dec. over Seth Lisa, WVU
141: Brandon Rader, #17, WVU dec. Ron Tarquinio, Pitt, 8-2
149: David Jauregui, WVU dec. Joey Ecklof, Pitt 3-1
157: Matt Lebe #2 WVU dec Sean Richmond, Pitt 9-5
165: Justin Nestor #19 Pitt dec. Larry Hall WVU 5-4
174: Kurt Brenner WVU dec. Nick Padezan, Pitt 3-2
184: Chance Litton, WVU dec. Kyle Deliere, Pitt 4-1
197: Jared Villers, WVU, tech. fall Mike Heist, Pitt 16-0
HWT: Lou Thomas, Pitt dec. Matt Holsopple, WVU 7-5