The No. 17 Virginia wrestling team travels to Las Vegas this weekend to compete in the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational. The nation’s elite assemble each year for this tournament, and the Cavaliers (6-2, 0-1 ACC) look to impress on a prominent stage.
Virginia last took to the mat against No. 11 Virginia Tech Nov. 25, suffering a disappointing 25-6 loss to the Hokies. Freshman George DiCamillo and redshirt junior Jon Fausey were the only Cavaliers to win their matches. DiCamillo defeated Eric Spjut 5-2, and Fausey earned a decision against Austin Gabel.
Following the lopsided loss to Virginia Tech, head coach Steve Garland has sensed a spike in energy from his wrestlers during practice.
“When you get punched in the mouth it’s amazing how serious things start to get,” Garland said. “All of the sudden the attention to detail ramps up, the fight in the last 30 seconds of practice ramps up.”
DiCamillo will strive to continue his collegiate debut with another strong performance this weekend. DiCamillo entered the season expecting a redshirt, but a change in plans forced the 133-pounder into competition. He has won each of his first two matches, claiming victory at the Wolfpack Open wrestling unattached before last week’s triumph against Spjut.
Garland and the coaching staff praised DiCamillo’s dedication, poise, and composure in the spotlight. The young grappler could make a deep run in his first tournament with Virginia.
“He’s everything we want in a student athlete,” Garland said. “He’s going to be special for a long time. If he can stay healthy, he’s going to be one of our all-time greats.”
Competing in a premier tournament is an entirely different experience than dual and individual meets. The first day of the Cliff Keen Invitational is a 12-hour affair, and it takes a special wrestler to fight with the necessary intensity long after the sun sets.
“When you wrestle that quarterfinal match at 8 o’clock at night it’s going to be a lot different than being fresh as daisies at 10 in the morning,” Fausey said.
The requisite physical toll of participating in a marquee tournament will likely match the emotional burden on a coach notoriously incapable of relaxing. “Tournaments are crazy,” Garland said. “It wears you out. I was so exhausted a couple of years ago that I honestly did not know if I could get out of bed the next day.”
The competition at this weekend’s invitational will be stiff.
“When you go to Las Vegas and you have four or five guys ranked ahead of you and you win the thing, it’s like, ‘This guy is for real,’” Fausey said. “It’s going to challenge us, and I think that is something to be excited about and not shy away from.”
After this weekend the team will hold nearly a month’s worth of training sessions during the semester break without entering a formal competition. The monthlong respite from matches gives Garland a crucial opportunity to further mold the team to his liking and gives individual athletes time to hone their techniques.
“One of the fun parts of the job is seeing a weakness and then going in and working on that weakness,” Garland said. “The learning phase is during December, and that is what I’m excited about.”
The Cavaliers expect to close out 2012 with quality wins as DiCamillo, Fausey, redshirt sophomore Nick Sulzer and redshirt senior Matt Snyder hope to receive a top-five seed in their respective weight divisions.
“We’re starting off on the right foot, but how we finish is up to the guys,” Garland said.
Fausey believes his team possesses the right mindset for victory. “If you aren’t going on the flight to Las Vegas looking to win the thing, then you might as well stay home,” he said.