Virginia closes regular season
Three top contributors return for dual matches against No. 23 Old Dominion, George Mason
The No. 21 Virginia wrestling team returns home Sunday to close out its stellar regular season with a pair of dual matches against in-state foes, No. 23 Old Dominion and George Mason.
Last Saturday, the Cavaliers notched their seventh consecutive dual meet victory in a 29-12 rout of Appalachian State to improve to 9-1 on the season. The trip to Boone, N.C. was the Cavaliers' first time traveling since Jan. 13, but the squad seemed unaffected even while wrestling without three of its top contributors.
"[Appalachian State] was hot coming into the match and we knew we had to be ready," Virginia coach Steve Garland said. "We wrestled with three of our best kids out, so we're really pumped because we feel like we can finally get everybody back in the lineup."
Virginia forfeited the 125-pound weight class for the second consecutive week without No. 11 redshirt junior Matt Snyder, and freshman Joseph Martinez again wrestled for No. 20 redshirt senior Matt Nelson in the 133-pound weight class. Both usual starters have not wrestled since the Cavaliers upset Maryland Jan. 29, but Garland expects both Snyder and Nelson to return for this weekend's matches.
"I'm excited to get back out with the guys, feeling that emotion come back, and being part of the rush of the roll that we've been on lately," Nelson said. "All I want to do is come back and wrestle. As much as I love keeping the weight down and doing the right things in practice, I live for the matches."
No. 14 redshirt sophomore Jon Fausey, who did not wrestle at Appalachian State although he was not injured, will also return this weekend, Garland said.
"We actually planned a scheduled rest for Jon a long time ago and it just sort of fell on that weekend," Garland said. "Jon's one of those guys who trains so hard that sometimes he just needs to be pulled back."
The Cavaliers need to be at full strength this weekend to keep their winning streak alive against Old Dominion (13-8) who are undoubtedly hungry to upstage their in-state rivals. The Monarchs most recently upset No. 22 Central Michigan 18-17 and thrashed N.C. State 34-3 in Norfolk, Va.
"The big thing we're focused on with the guys is that the season isn't over," Garland said. "Old Dominion is a very good team, and they've got some individuals in their lineup who are riding a string of big wins in a row. You don't want to have a lot of losses this weekend because you want guys feeling great going into the biggest tournament of the year."
Although it would be easy to coast into the ACC Tournament following such a successful regular season, the entire Virginia squad remains insatiable, Nelson said.
"The thing about it is that at this point in the season, it's all cumulative," Nelson said. "Every single thing matters at this point, and that's something that I'm humbly confident in, but I'm still not satisfied and I'm looking to do better every single day so I can finish the year the way I want to and know I can."
Old Dominion's roster is packed with nationally competitive wrestlers, spearheaded by No. 14 senior Te Edwards at the 174-pound weight class. Edwards will meet Virginia freshman Vinny Waldhauser, who ended his three-match losing streak last week by pinning Appalachian State freshman Jesse Johnson in 4 minutes 5 seconds.
After Virginia wrestles Old Dominion at 2 p.m., it takes the mat again against a struggling George Mason program (6-15) at 4 p.m. The Monarchs embarrassed the Patriots 33-6 earlier this season at the CAA duels in Fairfax, Va.
Garland said he plans to continue to stress the importance of finishing the season strong for a team he thinks has incredible potential.
"Our theme the past five weeks has been 'approach every dual meet like it's the national championship,'" Garland said. "That sense of urgency has really helped us because I've never seen our guys wrestle with so much intensity like we have the last four or five weeks ... It's arguably one of the best, if not the best, years we've ever put together, even before entering the postseason"