Two weeks into the season, the No. 17 Virginia wrestling team has decimated all competition. The Cavaliers (5-0) now enter a string of challenging matches that will give the team its first real test. Friday, No. 4 Iowa and Cumberland await Virginia at the UTC Duals in Chattanooga, Tenn.
At the Movember Duals held last weekend, the Cavaliers were in peak form, winning both matches by a combined score of 77-6. Virginia opened its match against Gardner-Webb with a flourish, winning nine consecutive matches and leaving the team’s coaching staff hungry for more scoring runs.
“It’s a huge psychological thing; it really deflates the opponent,” coach Steve Garland said. “It’s embarrassing, everybody feels it.”
The Cavaliers’ streak was spurred by redshirt seniors Matt Snyder, Derek Valenti and Jedd Moore and redshirt sophomore Nick Sulzer. These wrestlers constitute the teeth of Virginia, and they will play a crucial role again Saturday.
“Each person carries momentum, and that’s why we’re so happy to start with Matt Snyder,” Sulzer said. “It’s really nice seeing everyone doing the right things and have that carry over throughout the weekend.”
Although winning nine straight matches against Gardner-Webb is an impressive accomplishment, completing a similar feat against Iowa represents an entirely different challenge.
The Hawkeyes are arguably the most distinguished wrestling program in the nation. The team has won 23 NCAA titles, second only to Oklahoma State. The current roster includes six All-Americans — many of whom have earned multiple selections — and a two-time national champion, redshirt senior Matt McDonough.
Snyder will have his hands full when he faces McDonough in the 125-pound weight class match. Wrestling in his team’s first match, Snyder holds the key to giving the Cavaliers an enormous boost of momentum from the outset.
Despite an illustrious history of success and a roster loaded with talent and accolades, this Iowa team is not unbeatable. “You can’t wrestle the big-name coach in the corner, you can’t wrestle the mystique,” Garland said. “[Their wrestlers] wake up every single day and breathe the same air, so don’t treat them any different.”
Sulzer echoed his coach’s mentality, emphasizing the need to approach the match just like any other. “There’s still a circle, there’s still going to be a ref and we’re still going to be wrestling someone in a singlet.”
The Cavaliers will need every wrestler to perform to the best of his ability to compete with national powerhouse Iowa. Virginia’s recent success has buoyed the squad’s confidence heading into this critical barometer of the team’s potential.
“We’re rolling pretty well right now,” Sulzer said. “We’re excited and ready to get into this tough stretch.”
Before their showdown with the Hawkeyes, the Cavaliers will face Cumberland Saturday afternoon. The Bulldogs entered the season ranked No. 18 in the NAIA and feature four individually ranked wrestlers. Seven NAIA championship qualifiers return to the starting lineup.
Cumberland could prove dangerous if the Cavaliers lose focus, but Garland is taking precautions to ensure that his team will not overlook the Bulldogs. “You have to convince yourself that this individual match is the national finals,” Garland said. “You have to approach every team the same way or bad things will happen.”
Virginia will follow up the UTC Duals with a road match against No. 12 Virginia Tech. The upcoming stretch will be grueling but will serve an important purpose. Virginia will have the opportunity to compete against some of the nation’s best teams in November and will use December to prepare for conference matches beginning in January.
“Titles may not be won in November, but they are certainly earned,” Sulzer said. “Wrestling better guys now will certainly help our mentality and our mindset going into [the postseason in] March.”
Wrestling begins at 2 p.m. Saturday when Virginia squares off against Cumberland. The Cavaliers face Iowa at 5 p.m. the same day.