Cavaliers travel to NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals
Squad eyes regional title, first ever national tournament appearance
The No. 11 Virginia wrestling team begins a new chapter in its season as it competes in the regional bracket of the NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals Sunday. Victory there will advance Virginia (15-3, 4-1 ACC) to the national finals for the first time in program history.
The road ahead is not an easy one. The Cavaliers are grouped with No. 13 Nebraska, Hofstra and host No. 10 Cornell. Virginia will face the Cornhuskers (10-5, 4-4 Big Ten) first in the afternoon.
Virginia has prepared for this moment from the beginning of the season and can fall back on experience gained from a grueling schedule. Most notably, January’s Virginia Duals can serve as an analog for the National Duals, as both are multi-day tournaments featuring elite competition.
“We definitely have our work cut out, but the Virginia Duals really prepared us for this,” Virginia coach Steve Garland said. “We made our schedule so tough so we would be ready going up there. Hopefully, our guys are so battle tested it’s just another day at the office.”
The Cavaliers must brace for a tough match against Nebraska. An arduous Big Ten schedule has damaged the Cornhuskers’ overall record, but the amount of experience gained by going toe-to-toe with the likes of No. 2 Iowa and No. 4 Minnesota could prove invaluable during the rest of the season.
Nebraska’s lineup includes two 2012 All-Americans in sophomore 157-pounder James Green and senior 184-pounder Josh Ihnen. The Cavaliers will counter with redshirt senior Jedd Moore and redshirt junior Stephen Doty. Moore leads Virginia with 28 wins, whereas Doty has notched 14 this season.
The Cavaliers are certain to match up equally with Nebraska at nearly every weight class, meaning matches could become low-scoring affairs. The ability to score an extra point and fight through the whistle could provide the winning edge to either team.
“Those toss-up matches are going to make the difference in these duals,” freshman George DiCamillo said. “Looking back at the Virginia Duals we were able to pull those off, and we will have to do the same thing again.”
The opponent the Cavaliers encounter next depends entirely on the Nebraska match, but Virginia should expect a strong challenge from either Cornell or Hofstra.
Cornell (12-3, 5-0 Ivy League) cruised through the regular season, racking up quality wins against opponents such as Central Michigan and Oklahoma. The Big Red narrowly lost against national powerhouse Oregon State and enters Sunday riding a four match win streak.
Hofstra (6-13, 3-2 CAA) has not achieved the same level of success and have already lost to Cornell earlier this month by a score of 30-15. Hofstra’s lineup is bolstered by redshirt seniors Steve Bonanno and Justin Accordino, both 2012 All-Americans.
The Cavaliers must win both matches to advance to the national bracket the following week. Doing so would culminate years of hard work from Garland and the team’s fifth-year seniors by finally placing Virginia in the national spotlight.
“What more do we have to do?” Garland said. “I’m getting sick of hearing that people are unfamiliar with our program.”
Advancing to the national tournament would be a first for the team and would almost certainly warrant a top-10 national ranking. Although neither goal would satisfy the championship-hungry Garland, conquering the regional bracket would represent a critical first step to postseason glory.
“Our motto has been, ‘It’s time,’” DiCamillo said. “It’s finally time to prove that everything we’ve been putting in the room is finally going to pay off when we get our top 10 ranking.”