On Saturday at 7:30 p.m., the Virginia wrestling team will travel to Washington, D.C. to face American in their first dual meet of the season. Both teams are coming off shortened seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are looking to start their seasons off on a high note in the out-of-conference showdown.
The Cavaliers (0-0, 0-0 ACC) are coming off of a 3-3 season that yielded a fourth-place finish in the ACC Tournament and six individual NCAA Tournament qualifications. They enter the season standing just outside of the NWCA coaches poll at 28th in votes collected, receiving 31 votes.
The Eagles (0-0, 0-0 EIWA) did not have a single regular season match but successfully sent two wrestlers to the NCAA Tournament. This match is part of a two-part dual meet for the Eagles where they will be wrestling Sacred Heart before the matchup against Virginia. Saturday will also mark the beginning of the Jason Borelli era of American wrestling. Borelli spent his last 13 years at Stanford as the head coach before accepting the job at American.
Now let’s look at some of the key wrestlers to watch as we enter the first match of the 2021-2022 season.
Cavaliers to watch
Senior Brian Courtney
Courtney is looking to begin his final year as a Cavalier on a strong note. He is moving down to the 133-pound weight class after he was one of three Virginia wrestlers to win a match at the 2021 NCAA Championship.
Graduate transfer Jarod Verkleeren
Verkleeren — who transferred to Virginia after graduating from Penn State — will be making his first statement in a Virginia uniform Saturday. Verkleeren boasts a career record of 32-16 and will be looking to make his mark on the ACC this year after doing so in the wrestling-crazed Big 10.
Junior Jake Keating
Keating, who features for Virginia in the 157-pound weight class, had an impressive 10-5 record in the 2020-2021 season. He finished runner-up in the ACC Championship, earning himself All-ACC honors.
Sophomore Justin McCoy
After wrestling in the 157-pound weight class last year, McCoy will most likely make his season debut in the 165-pound weight class. Along with Keating, McCoy also finished as the runner-up at the ACC Championship in 2021 and finished with a 9-4 record on the year.
Eagles to watch
Junior Tim Fitzpatrick
Wrestling in the 165-pound weight class, Fitzpatrick is the only returning wrestler who participated in the 2021 NCAA Championship. His 4-1 record in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championship gave him the spot in NCAA Championship, where he would lose both of his matches.
Junior Patrick Ryan
After featuring in the 141-pound weight class, Ryan will be moving up a weight class into the 149-pound class. Ryan has a 29-18 record on his career and excelled in his first two full seasons with the team. He will have a tough match on Saturday against the seasoned Verkleeren.
Senior Collin Shannon
Shannon is entering his final opening match as an American wrestler at 174 pounds. In his last full season — the 2019-2020 season — he had an impressive 26-12 and collected five podium finishes. Shannon did not compete in the 2020-2021 season.
149-pound weight class: Patrick Ryan vs. Jarod Verkleeren
This will be a great test for the junior from American. Verkleeren is a veteran and was ranked in the top 20 for a few weeks in 2020. This will be his first match in a Cavalier uniform, and he will look to start off hot in his final year as a collegiate wrestler.
165-pound weight class: Tim Fitzpatrick vs. Justin McCoy
Fitzpatrick is one of the most accomplished wrestlers on the Eagles’ squad, but will he be up to McCoy’s test? McCoy is set for a really solid year after finishing second in the ACC and is looking to get the season started with a win.
Both teams are going to be eager to win on the first night of the season, but Virginia’s depth throughout its roster should carry it to victory on Saturday night over an American squad that missed all of last season. If the Cavaliers can get a win, that will give them good momentum going into the Southeast Open in Salem, Va. Sunday and an intense rivalry battle with Maryland Nov. 12.
Virginia’s opener against American is set to start at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Bender Arena in Washington, D.C. The match will be broadcast live on ESPN+.