Matmen eye Duke, UNC
After strong results in two January tilts, No. 22 Cavaliers seek second ACC win
The red-hot Virginia wrestling team, coming off a sixth-place finish at the Southern Scuffle and a 33-12 win against N.C. State, takes to the mat in Memorial Gymnasium today and Saturday against ACC rivals Duke and North Carolina.
Those recent results mark the third straight strong performance by the 22nd-ranked squad dating back to its Dec. 18 dismantling of Drexel in Philadelphia, Pa.
"It was good to see guys step up and wrestle hard," redshirt junior Matt Snyder said. "We went into N.C. State and completely dominated nine out of 10 weight classes."
The Cavaliers (4-1, 1-1 ACC) notched their first conference win last Friday in Raleigh, N.C. by taking eight of 10 bouts against the Wolfpack. The most competitive match on paper resulted in a huge win for Virginia, as standout No. 11 Snyder scored a 13-2 major decision against No. 20 freshman Colton Fought.
"[Fought] is the real deal," coach Steve Garland said. "[Snyder] got down big early but he kept his composure and came back. He's been wrestling great; he beat the guy ranked 12th in the country twice at the Southern Scuffle."
Virginia's two losses came in the 141-pound and 149-pound weight classes. At 141 pounds, Cavalier freshman Joseph Martinez wrestled up a weight class in place of injured redshirt senior Nick Nelson and was pinned by No. 18 redshirt senior Darrius Little, while sophomore Gus Sako held a commanding 14-2 lead at 149 pounds before getting reversed and pinned by sophomore Matt Nereim in a stunning turn of events.
The Cavaliers displayed similar dominance in the Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga, Tenn., where they placed sixth out of 22 teams and where the top five teams at the meet ranked in the top 11 squads nationally.
Six Virginia wrestlers placed in the top eight of their respective weight classes. No. 19 Nelson finished as the highest placing Cavalier by taking third place at the 141-pound weight class.
Garland hopes that Nelson, who missed the N.C. State duel after getting banged up at the Southern Scuffle, will be available to return for the matches this weekend.
"There's a lot of really good matchups," Garland said. "The biggest one of the day on paper is [North Carolina's Evan] Henderson, their phenom freshman, against one of our stars, Nick Nelson, at 141."
Henderson is ranked 18th nationally, and the Tar Heels defeated the Blue Devils 30-5 Jan. 9. Neither opponent is ranked in the national top 25, although every conference match has critical postseason implications.
"We have two pretty solid teams coming in, and they're both very tough," Snyder said. "They're not going to come up here to lay down for us just because we might look better on paper."
Virginia boasts an even conference record after its win against N.C. State and a close 18-13 loss at home to then-No. 15 Virginia Tech. With only three conference matches left in the six-team ACC, the Cavaliers are not taking their home matches against Duke and North Carolina lightly.
"We have to win these matches so we can get the best seed we can possibly get at ACCs to set our team up to win the championship," Garland said. "[Every ACC match] is always big because our conference is so small. If you don't get the right seed at ACCs, you could be putting yourself in some trouble."
However, the results of this weekend's duels are by no means the principal determinants in postseason performance, as the Cavaliers still have five more matches to find their groove and ensure they are firing on all cylinders come tournament time.
"ACC matches are important for us," Snyder said. "But at the end of the day it's just another match and another step towards March and getting ready for the ACC Tournament and [NCAA] Tournament."
The weekend duel begins against Duke tonight at 7 and continues tomorrow at 1 p.m. in Memorial Gymnasium.