The No. 16 Virginia wrestling team travels to the Gardner-Webb Duals in Boiling Springs, N.C. this weekend to face George Mason and Gardner-Webb. This meet marks the final chance for the Cavaliers (3-0) to compete against lesser known opponents before the season intensifies.
Virginia kicked off the season last week with a home quad meet against Ohio, Anderson and Chattanooga. Although the Cavaliers easily swept all three teams in decisive fashion, head coach Steve Garland noted a few issues with his squad’s performance that need improvement.
“I saw some mistakes from the top position,” coach Garland said. “I consider us one of the better teams on top, but we were getting sloppy in some areas we’re usually very tight in.”
Lack of sharpness on top may have prevented the team from scoring more points as Virginia wrestlers were able to score takedowns but failed to score points for near falls. This inability to score points led to eight matches during the quad meet, including four Virginia losses, being decided by three points or less.
This weekend’s host, Gardner-Webb, begins the season under new command as Daniel Elliot replaces Dick Wince, who retired earlier in 2012 following 22 years of coaching. The Runnin’ Bulldogs feature a mixture of experience and youth: Redshirt seniors Alex and Ryan Medved headline the top returners with 14 incoming freshmen bolstering the squad’s depth.
George Mason begins what appears destined to be another rebuilding season this weekend. After inheriting a winless team in his debut year, second-year coach Joe Russell led the Patriots to a 6-17 record. George Mason’s roster does feature two stars in sophomores Vince Rodriguez and Jake Kettler. Rodriguez qualified for the NCAA Championships as a true freshman last year, and Kettler, a transfer from wrestling powerhouse Minnesota, qualified for the Olympic trials last year.
Both teams’ rosters guarantee to produce exciting wrestling as the best wrestlers match up with Virginia’s best. Such potential marquee matchups include Alex Medved against Virginia redshirt senior Jedd Moore at 157 pounds, Ryan Medved against redshirt senior Derek Valenti at 149 pounds and Rodriguez against redshirt sophomore Joe Spisak at 133 pounds.
Moore’s performance at last weekend’s quad drew vociferous praise from the coaching staff, and his aggressive, high-scoring wrestling style has made him a model for the other wrestlers.
“We’re creating a highlight film of Jedd Moore to show the team and say, ‘this is how it is supposed to be, fellas,’” Garland said.
Along with a more talented stable of wrestlers from which to draw, the Cavaliers should benefit from their prime conditioning. Virginia’s superior stamina was obvious in many matches Saturday as opposing wrestlers entered the third period with their heads down and their hands resting on their knees.
Given the advantage of top-notch conditioning in the latter stages of matches and meets, the Cavaliers take pride in their fitness.
“[Conditioning] is something that we definitely do a lot of in the preseason,” redshirt junior Stephen Doty said. “It has a lot to do with the way we wrestle. We wrestle very physically.”
The Gardner-Webb Duals offer the Cavaliers a fantastic opportunity to wrestle against less talented Division I schools before facing more challenging opponents such as No. 4 Iowa and No. 12 Virginia Tech. But Garland is not allowing himself or his wrestlers to overlook any team.
“I don’t want to use the term tune up, ever,” Garland said. “We need to worry about beating these guys, taking it one match at a time, and then worry about Iowa and the rest of the crew.”