Youthful squad to return for fall

Virginia wrestling fans can anticipate great things during upcoming seasons from an already impressive young squad.

At the center of the Cavaliers' youth movement is freshman Chris Henrich, who was recently named 2008 ACC Freshman of the Year.

"I think its been an awesome honor, especially with the recruiting classes that have been brought into the ACC this year," Henrich said.

The 174-pound Lansdale, Pa. native compiled an overall record of 26-10 this season despite beginning the year with lackluster performance.

"I think I just came out a little bit too nervous," Henrich said. "It took me some time to adjust to it."

Coach Steve Garland said he was especially impressed by Henrich's development throughout the season.

"I think the big thing about Chris in my mind was just how much he improved from the first competition to the last," Garland said. "That's a testament to his work ethic, his discipline and his fortitude."

During the course of the season Henrich's performance continually improved.

"He not only won matches; he got better every time he stepped on the mat," Garland said.

Henrich posted an 8-6 record through Dec. 30 and a 17-4 record for the rest of the season. Between Jan. 5 and Feb. 10, Henrich won 14 straight matches.

"Definitely at the end of the year there was ... a streak," Henrich said. "I just wrestled my best."

Henrich went on to win second place at the ACC Championship and to receive an at-large bid in the NCAA Championship. Henrich's winning streak ended when he went 1-2 at the NCAA Tournament.

"Making it was a highlight, but not the way I wrestled," Henrich said. "I'm definitely not satisfied with that at all."

Garland said he thinks that participating in the NCAA Championship taught Henrich more about the mental side of wrestling.

"Physically he was ready, mentally he wasn't," Garland said. "I think that going to NCAAs really opened his eyes to what it's all about."

Henrich said he is anticipating the upcoming season during which he and the other young wrestlers can continue to improve.

"I can't wait for next year," Henrich said. "We're already thinking about it and we're returning pretty much everyone."

Of the team's 10 starters this year, nine will be returning for the next season, including both of the Cavaliers' ACC title winners and other NCAA Championship representatives, sophomore Ross Gitomer and junior Rocco Caponi.

Although Gitomer, a 125-pound sophomore from Flemington, N.J., lost both of his NCAA matches, Garland said he was proud of the aggression Gitomer displayed during the tournament.

"In my mind that showed amazing improvement," Garland said. "I just thought he wrestled great."

Garland said was impressed with Gitomer's showing against Oklahoma freshman Joey Fio, who was ranked No. 15 in his weight class by InterMat Wrestle.

"He was beating him with 20 seconds left [and] he got taken down off his own shot," Garland said.

Caponi, a 184-pound junior from Uniontown, Ohio, had 39 wins this season and has compiled 116 career wins. Caponi was expected to have a strong showing at the NCAA Tournament but won only two of his four matches.

"Caponi won two matches at nationals, which is nothing to scoff at," Garland said. "But obviously we wanted him to be an All-American. His goal was to be an All-American. The fact that he wasn't was beyond disappointing. I think crushed is the right word."

Expressing optimism about next season for both the team in general and Caponi in particular, Garland said, "Hopefully [Caponi] can learn from that experience and be a national champ next year"

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