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Virginia matmen prepare for road trip to Jersey

No. 19 Cavaliers refuse to underestimate Ivy League program, let rankings dictate attitude going into weekend

The Virginia wrestling squad will head to New Jersey this weekend as it prepares to face Rutgers and Princeton.

The Cavaliers (13-4) have fallen a few spots in the rankings this week - to No. 19 - after their loss to No. 14 Virginia Tech last weekend.

Because rankings hold little weight until the postseason, however, senior Ross Gitomer - who is ranked 19th going into this weekend - said the team does not consider its national position when preparing for an opponent.

"I just try not to think about it," Gitomer said, "and just focus on getting better every week. The Tech match did let us down, but we don't let it affect us."

The Scarlet Knights (14-4-1) are not ranked nationally but they are not to be taken lightly. Rutgers has gone unbeaten in its last 10 matches, with a tie coming against Michigan State Jan. 16.

Virginia coach Steve Garland has great respect for what Rutgers coach Scott Goodale has done for the Knights' program.

"I feel that Rutgers is one of the most underrated teams in the country," Garland said. "When Scott Goodale took over the program a short time ago, it was in disarray, but now it is a top-25 team, if not better. Looking at some of their guys' records, I can see that we will have our work cut out for us."

And though Princeton is generally regarded as a weaker opponent than the Cavaliers' first this weekend, it would also behoove Virginia to not take the Ivy League squad lightly. Princeton (3-6) has struggled much of this season - all of its matches have been decided by at least 10 points - but the Tigers' 149-pound sophomore Daniel Kolodzik has a win against a top-20 wrestler from Rutgers.

"Princeton right now is building," Garland said. "Their coach, Chris Ayres, was a really good wrestler at Lehigh and is a very good coach. He's in the process of building that program, and it takes time to get it going. With the Ivy League, you have limited slots to pick up guys, and they have a lot working against them. They are doing the best they can with what they have to work with."

Regardless of whether its opponent is the best team in the country or one of the worst, Gitomer said Virginia tries to take a consistent approach in preparing for any match.

"We just prepare as hard as we can," he said, "and go in the same way with the same attitude. Focusing like that and treating each match the same way is how we avoid letdowns."

The team's biggest question mark thus far, though, has been whether it can come out with the same high level of energy for every match. Garland stresses to his team before each match the importance of having the correct mindset.

"We need to make sure we wrestle everyone the way we wrestled Chapel Hill," Garland said. "We need to have every guy go out and looking to score points in the first 30 seconds. We need to be pushing our own pace, as opposed to the other way around."

Garland added that his philosophy for the team is to wrestle as if they have their backs against the wall. Though winning is everyone's ultimate goal, when the team falls short of its ideal, it is always important to take something from the loss and to make improvements before the next opponent, Gitomer said.

"We just have to keep building on and learning from our losses," Gitomer said, "and taking each day and practice to get better"

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