Wrestling battles ACC rival Pittsburgh

After convincing win against Duke, Cavaliers prep for always-tough Panthers

No. 14 Virginia wrestling hosts its second top-10 team of the season this Sunday as No. 10 ranked Pittsburgh comes to town for a showdown between two premier ACC programs.

The Panthers (7-3, 2-0 ACC) got the better of the Cavaliers (9-3, 1-0 ACC) last season in the Steel City, 25-9. The match could only be described as a rock fight, and the final score belied how closely contested the evening was — seven of 10 weight classes were decided by two points or fewer.

In the grand scheme, that hard-fought loss morphed into a positive for Virginia. The team was cruising up to that point, having won its previous six dual meets. The punch in the mouth delivered by Pittsburgh only upped the Cavaliers’ determination to be great.

“They took it to us last season,” coach Steve Garland said. “At that time we’d forgotten what it felt like to lose, and this defeat woke us up and gave us a whole new direction for the rest of the season.”

The narrative this time around is a bit different. Virginia is not riding a string of victories, and an unfortunate but ultimately uncontrollable rash of injuries has tested the resolve of the Cavaliers.

Still, Garland said he firmly believes having the right mindset is imperative to success. Following the team’s 30-9 drubbing of Duke last Friday, he implored his wrestlers to not make the mistake of becoming overconfident and thinking they were good enough to get by without first putting in the hard work.

Fifth-ranked junior Blaise Butler said he supported his coach’s emphasis on attitude — with one distinction.

“Personally, I don't think there is such a thing as overconfidence,” Butler said. “It is good to go into the match believing that you are the better wrestler and that we are the better team, but we can't expect the referee to raise our hand just because we believe that we are the better team.”

Butler has good reason to believe he is the better wrestler every time he enters the circle, but the reigning ACC Wrestler of the Week will have his hands full with seventh-ranked senior Tyler Wilps at 174 pounds. Wilps is a two-time NCAA qualifier, a 2014 ACC champion and placed seventh at the NCAA Championships last season.

“[Wilps] is one of the best wrestlers in the country,” Garland said. “This is another great opportunity for Blaise to wrestle against the best. I want him to focus on how he competes and not worry about how highly Wilps is ranked.”

Every point will matter Sunday, and Butler and second-ranked senior Nick Sulzer both know how to score and secure precious bonus points for their team.

Sulzer continues his rampage through the NCAA in his fourth and final season. His record currently sits at 20-1, and he can enter into a tie with Rocco Caponi for the fourth-most victories in team history. At times, a technical fall victory seems to be what is expected from a Sulzer match, and the bonus points it brings could determine the match.

“I’ll take either [Butler or Sulzer] against anyone,” Garland said. “I love those guys.”

But no two wrestlers can win a match for a team. A Virginia victory will require the whole team to do its part, and all 10 Cavaliers to fight for every possible point from the first until the final whistle. As the team learned the hard way in a 16-15 loss against Virginia Tech in the championship match of the Virginia Duals, every single point matters.

“Every single guy has to scrap for each point,” Garland said. “We have to do it shoulder-to-shoulder, and over the past few weeks the team is really syncing together. If you can’t get up for this match then it’s hard to get up for anything.”

The match begins at 1 p.m. at Memorial Gymnasium.

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