In its last conference matchup before the ACC Tournament, the No. 11 Virginia wrestling team will travel to College Park Friday to take on a Maryland team looking to exact a measure of revenge. Last season, the Cavaliers handed the then-13th ranked Terrapins their first loss of the year.
The two teams have changed a lot since last season’s meeting — in fact, their roles have virtually flipped. Virginia’s (12-3, 3-1 ACC) recent success has them ranked 11th in the country while Maryland (10-6, 1-1 ACC) does not crack the top 25.
The Terrapins have a chance to make amends for last season’s disappointment by earning the upset this time around. Maryland’s record is not entirely indicative of its overall performance and the team poses a significant threat to Virginia. The Terrapins have suffered excruciatingly close losses, including a one-point defeat to Virginia Tech, and boast wins against highly ranked opponents, including No. 18 Purdue.
“Maryland has always been one of our biggest rivals,” redshirt sophomore Joe Spisak said. “It’s going to be a tough match, and there is going to be a lot of great wrestling.”
Individually, Maryland possesses many standout wrestlers who are nationally ranked. They are led by talents such as 133-pound sophomore Geoffrey Alexander, who is ranked 17th in the nation, and sixth-ranked 174-pound senior Josh Asper. Asper enters Friday’s battle with a sterling 9-1 record.
Virginia also has several nationally ranked athletes on its roster. The Cavaliers come into the matchup with an elite 184-pounder in redshirt junior Jon Fausey, who is ranked No. 15 in the nation with a record of 25-5. A possible scrap between Asper and Fausey is likely to be a highlight of Friday’s dual.
Virginia has undeniably had more success as a team than Maryland this season. The Cavaliers are coming off of a 38-0 romp of Duke in Charlottesville, and two of their three losses have come against seventh-ranked Virginia Tech. They also have a marquee win under their belt — a 21-13 upset of No. 10 Central Michigan.
The Cavaliers have dominated opponents in recent weeks, winning three straight in ACC competition against North Carolina, Duke and N.C. State by a combined score of 94-16. Their best wrestling, however, may be in front of them.
Injuries have plagued the team for much of the year, but many wrestlers are now beginning to get healthy just as the season winds down. Spisak, for one, has just been cleared to return to action in time to clash with one of the nation’s elite programs.
“We’re gearing up now and getting excited,” Spisak said. “Hopefully we’re going to go down there and make some noise.”
In addition, redshirt senior Mike Salopek returned from torn ligaments in his foot against NC State Sunday and defeated Wolfpack sophomore Bill Cook at the 197-pound bout to improve to 11-1 on the season. The return of Salopek and Spisak should bolster an already formidable Virginia team, much to the delight of coach Steve Garland.
“They definitely make an impact,” Garland said. “Spisak brings the dimension of a big move aspect. He can pin you from anywhere.”
Salopek’s experience as a fifth-year wrestler is representative of a battle-tested Virginia team. The Cavaliers enter the rumble in College Park with eight upperclassmen on their roster, each of whom has contributed substantially during dual meets and tournaments, compiling a combined record of 125-35.
Maryland, however, boasts an experienced roster of its own and has the ability to dress as many as 18 upperclassmen for Friday’s matchup. That number is even more impressive considering the team’s recent success. Maryland has won the past two ACC Championships, meaning many of those veteran wrestlers have already made their mark in conference play.
The Terrapins have been hot of late, winning four of their last six contests as they look to capture a third straight conference title. But there may be no team quite as hot as the Cavaliers, who have won six of their last seven.
“They’ve got great guys where we’ve got great guys, and we’ve got great guys where they’ve got great guys,” Garland said. “It really depends on who is going to show up that night ready to go.”
The match begins at 7 p.m in College Park.