Following a record-setting week that catapulted Virginia to its highest ranking in school history, the No. 11 wrestling team travels to Chapel Hill, N.C. for a conference matchup against North Carolina Friday.
The Cavaliers (9-3, 1-0 ACC) are fresh off a runner-up finish at the Virginia Duals in Hampton, Va. where the team defeated Bucknell, Boise State and No. 12 Central Michigan before falling to ACC-rival Virginia Tech in the finals.
By beating then-No. 9 Central Michigan, Virginia earned its first victory against a top-10 team in program history. That upset caught the eye of the nation’s coaches, leading the Cavaliers to climb eight spots in the ranking and surpass their previous school-best ranking of 16th in 2010.
Despite their Virginia Duals loss, the Cavaliers still carry with them newfound highs in confidence and momentum.
“We’re so excited because from that tournament we became a team,” head coach Steve Garland said. “I don’t know if we were exactly a team up until that point.”
That heightened sense of camaraderie could be key to avoiding a letdown against a streaking underdog looking to upset a conference foe at home in North Carolina (4-2).
“Coming off a big weekend, we tend to slow down a little bit,” redshirt freshman Zach Nye said. “We’re putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to not slow down because UNC is a decent team.”
The Tar Heels struggled out of the gate this season, going 1-2 in dual meets and netting unimpressive finishes in several major tournaments, including a 21st place result at the Southern Scuffle. But North Carolina has begun to turn things around recently, winning three consecutive dual meets against Michigan State, Clarion and Drexel.
Virginia redshirt senior star Matt Snyder, the No. 7 wrestler at 125 pounds, will face stiff competition in the match’s opening bout against No. 13 Tar Heel freshman Nathan Kraisser. Joining Kraisser in the top 20 for North Carolina are freshman Joey Ward and sophomore Evan Henderson.
“Right off the bat their 125 is ranked, their 133 is top-20, 141 is ranked,” Garland said. “They are a really tough team. You cannot look at national rankings and treat them any different.”
The Cavaliers are not pulling rank on the Tar Heels in their preparation for the match. If their upset win against Central Michigan over the weekend proved anything, it is that national recognition means little inside the mat.
“The big thing I stressed is that nobody cares,” Garland said. “This team does not care that you are good, that you are nationally ranked. They don’t care that you just had a good weekend. They want to beat you at home because that is what competitors do.”
Friday’s match signals the beginning of the stretch run for the ACC schedule. Virginia has four conference matches in the next two weeks followed by two non-conference matches before the ACC tournament. The final two months of wrestling feature some of the team’s most challenging matchups, giving the Cavaliers a chance to make or break their 2012-13 season down the stretch.
“The season isn’t even close to being over,” Nye said. “We have two months left, and if we let up, we will lose momentum going into ACC’s and Nationals.”