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Virginia takes mat against Hokies, Heels

Program reaches all-time high No. 16 ranking with strong winter campaign, resumes conference schedule

Brent Jones won the 197lb division by forfeit in the meet against UNC.  UVA outscored the Tar Heels 27-10.
Brent Jones won the 197lb division by forfeit in the meet against UNC. UVA outscored the Tar Heels 27-10.

The Virginia wrestling team used the University's long winter reprieve to do some heavy lifting, working its way to the highest national ranking in program history. It will look to continue its success this weekend against ACC opponents North Carolina and Virginia Tech.

Well-rested from exams, the Cavaliers placed fifth in the Southern Scuffle Dec. 29 to 30 in Greensboro, N.C. The finish was only a point shy of fourth-place Edinboro. Of note individually, junior All-American Chris Henrich placed second at 174 pounds as the top finisher for Virginia.

The new year began with a strong seventh-place finish at the Virginia Duals held in Hampton, Va. Jan. 9 to 10. During the weekend, Virginia won three out of five matchups - two against Michigan and one against in-state rival Old Dominion - while falling short to Oklahoma and Virginia Tech.

For a team that has had its struggles, coach Steve Garland said Virginia's seventh-place finish was a step in the right direction.

"We haven't placed there in a while," Garland said, "and at the Virginia Duals, one of the key wins was against Old Dominion, who is nationally ranked in the top 20. We haven't beaten them since I have been head coach here, so it was a personal milestone for me. They are a big rival of ours, and [the win] meant a lot to us."

Notable individual results included senior Brent Jones' thumping of third-ranked Eric Lapotsky of Oklahoma. At 197 pounds, Jones only needed 15 seconds to pin his opponent, the fastest pin for Virginia on the season.

With the team as strong as it has been in quite a while, Garland said he was impressed with how well the Cavaliers fared during the break.

"We had a great winter session," Garland said, "probably one of the best since I have been here, training- and competition-wise. [At] the Southern Scuffle - one of the hardest tournaments in the country - we finished fifth, the highest in program history, and we finished ahead of a couple nationally ranked teams."

Winter Break wrapped up with a pair of wins against Appalachian State and Penn Jan. 14 and 17, respectively. Sophomore Danny Gonsor, ranked 17th in the country at 149 pounds, scored a 17-0 technical fall against Appalachian State's Travis Puckett. Against Penn, Henrich scored a sudden victory against Scott Giffin, a two-time qualifier for the NCAAs.

Heading into this weekend, Virginia is ranked 16th in the nation, the highest the program has ever been. At 12-3, the Cavaliers already have bested last season's win total of 11. The 12 wins this season also are tied with the 1975 and 2003 seasons for the second-most in program history.

Looking to continue their success this weekend against two conference opponents, the Cavaliers will have a chance to avenge their loss to Virginia Tech from two weeks ago. The fact that the No. 14 Hokie squad is the highest-ranked opponent the Cavaliers have hosted in Memorial Gymnasium since No. 2 Iowa State in 2007 will simply fuel the rivalry.

"We have a lot of momentum built up from Winter Break," redshirt freshman Mike Salopek said, "and with North Carolina and Virginia Tech this weekend, the team is very excited, especially with the opportunity to go up against Tech again."

Seemingly firing on all cylinders, the Cavaliers still have plenty left to accomplish. Virginia has not defeated Tech since 2007, and with a chance to avenge its earlier loss this season, Salopek noted that consistent effort from all players will be necessary to maintain the squad's recent success.

"I think that in order for our team to be successful against high-ranked teams, everyone needs to come together and put their best match together as a whole," he said. "Once everyone wrestles their best match against some of the best guys, we will be able to reach the next level."

Virginia plays host to North Carolina at 5 p.m. Friday, and Virginia Tech at 1 p.m. Saturday.

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