No. 13 wrestlers prepare for ACC Tournament
Cavaliers look to recover after sobering loss to Nebraska
For any team, a demoralizing loss can transform into a source of motivation as the squad strives to find its winning ways once again. For the No. 13 Virginia wrestling team, a bitter Feb. 17 loss to No. 12 Nebraska will fuel their efforts to exhibit dominance on the mat at the ACC Championships this weekend.
Nearly three weeks ago, the Cavaliers (16-4, 4-1 ACC) dropped the opening round of the NWCA National Duals regional qualifier to the Cornhuskers (11-6), 28-8. The absence of redshirt senior Jedd Moore did Virginia no favors, but the team in general failed to put forth the kind of effort coach Steve Garland has come to expect.
“That match was horrendous, embarrassing, and it was humbling,” Garland said. “Hopefully, the guys will not put as much pressure on themselves and will be rested and healed for this tournament.”
The prolonged rest period could prove to be an indispensable aid for Virginia as the team runs the gauntlet of the conference tournament. The field includes perennial powerhouses No. 7 Virginia Tech and No. 24 Maryland. The Hokies (14-3, 4-0 ACC) have yet to capture an ACC Championship, but may have a chance to snap that drought this weekend. The Terrapins (14-8, 3-2 ACC), on the other hand, have claimed an ACC-record 24 championships including four out of the last five and the past two conference titles.
Virginia has more than just Virginia Tech and Maryland to challenge them. Extremely talented wrestlers from every program fill the bracket, including 18 ranked in the top 20 of their respective weight class and nine in the top 10. Furthermore, every wrestler must be wary of a hungry underdog with nothing to lose and everything to gain.
“The amazing part about the end of the year is because most of the guys know this is it,” Garland said. “It is a no-lose situation. They can go out and lay it all on the line and hope they make the national tournament.”
The high-stress environment of a conference tournament is enough to unnerve any wrestler, but it is no stranger to the core members of Garland’s 2010 championship team who are still on the roster.
“You really have to look at the leaders of our team,” redshirt sophomore Joe Spisak said. “They do a great job of steering us in the right direction and getting us ready for these tough matches coming up.”
The Cavaliers received first round byes in six of the 10 weight classes. These wrestlers include freshman George DiCamillo at 133 pounds, redshirt senior Derek Valenti at 149 pounds, Moore at 157 pounds, redshirt sophomore Nick Sulzer at 165 pounds, redshirt junior Jon Fausey at 184 pounds and redshirt sophomore Derek Papagianopoulos at heavyweight.
Of the wrestlers not receiving a first round bye, redshirt senior Matt Snyder faces the most challenging path to the finals. Snyder opens competition with NC State junior Joe DeAngelo, and a win would pit Snyder against number one seed freshman Nathan Kraisser of North Carolina. Kraisser defeated Snyder earlier this season in Chapel Hill.
A solid showing at the ACC Championships would provide the Cavaliers with a major source of momentum going into the NCAA finals. It would also do wonders to validate Virginia’s success this season in wake of a disappointing loss to Nebraska.
“Everyone is going in with the same attitude,” Spisak said. “We’re going in there to dominate and win our first ACC title since 2010.”