Two Paths Cross on at Virginia
March 4, 1999
Matt Roth and Jim Harshaw came to the University of Virginia traveling on two different paths. Roth was a high school state champion while Harshaw had never even placed in states. But the paths of these two wrestlers from Pennsylvania converged at Alderman Road where they became roommates in Courtenay dorm. Now, five years later, with an abundance of hard work and determination in their tanks, the two friends are driving on the same road–the road to earning All-American honors.
Both Harshaw and Roth have experienced very successful seasons. Intermat Wrestling ranks Roth eighth in the nation at 125 with a record of 26-5. Roth’s 26 career pins is a Virginia record and his 42nd career dual match win against John Weible of Clarion tied him for the all-time record with Mike Krafchick (1991-1992, 1994-1995). Harshaw ranks sixteenth at 165 with a record of 34-5. He tallied impressive wins at the West Virginia Open, the Virginia Intercollegiates, and the Congressional Cup. After winning his third consecutive Virginia championship, Harshaw became only the 16th wrestler to claim three state titles.
While Harshaw and Roth had only heard of each other before they came to Virginia, they did have one brief encounter. “I don’t know if Matt remembers this, but I wrestled him in high school. It was at the Keystone State games during the summer. He had bumped up a couple of weight classes and he was way too small. I pinned him,” Harshaw said with a slight grin.
When the two, one-time competitors arrived at Virginia, they joined a team which lacked leadership. “Other than two kids, there was no upperclass leadership. It was more like a club sport because guys were here to do academics. I saw that people expected to lose to those who were ranked higher,” said Roth. “And, coaches can’t control a kid’s attitude.”
Howie Miller and Mike Krafchick were the two upperclassmen who did lead the team. Miller went to Roth’s high school and sold Roth the idea to come to Virginia. Krafchick was the last Cavalier to receive All-American honors and he is a wrestler that both Harshaw and Roth respect immensely. “Leadership is not something [Jim and I] consciously discuss. We had a great leader in Mike Krafchick. Those who were serious looked at him as an example on how to get to the next level,” Roth said.
Like Krafchick, Roth and Harshaw both possess a tremendous work ethic. They only know how to work one way, and that way is hard. And, like Krafchick, the two hope to follow in his footsteps. “The goal is to be All-American,” Harshaw said.
“Jim and I prepare to win every match. Our ultimate goal is going out to win. And, we both have the attitude that the best way to win is to pin,” said Roth.
Now, Roth and Harshaw serve as an example to their younger teammates. The team finished the regular season with a decent 9-5-1 record. Although the record is not spectacular, it does exhibit Virginia’s steady improvement. “The work ethic [of the team] becomes better from year to year. It is because we are working better together,” said Harshaw. Harshaw and Roth will lead the team into the ACC Tournament this weekend and North Carolina will be Virginia’s toughest competition. The Tar Heels defeated the Cavaliers 32-6 earlier this season, but Virginia enters the tournament with a new positive outlook. “We need to improve on not getting ourselves down mentally. If we are down a match, we need to shake it off,” said Harshaw.
Virginia Coach Lenny Bernstein used the Oscar De La Hoya–Ike Quartay fight to motivate his team. He showed the first, sixth, and final rounds of the match. Quartay knocked De La Hoya to the ground in the sixth round, but De La Hoya ended up winning the fight. “They knocked each other down, but neither gave up. They both expected to win all the way through because they each had the attitude of a champion. If we have this, then we can definitely challenge and beat UNC,” said Harshaw. Virginia has finished second the last two years in the ACC Tournament to North Carolina. “It’s not going to be easy. But, in head-to-head meet it would be more difficult. We have the the help of other teams to knock off UNC. For us to win, it’s going to have to be a combination of our victories and those of the other teams,” said Roth. For Harshaw and Roth, the ACC Tournament will be the last stop before the NCAA’s. The tournament will provide them with the opportunity to fuel up on confidence before they make their final drive towards All-American status. But, for both Harshaw and Roth, this journey has not always been a smooth ride.
When Jim Harshaw left his home in Cranberry Township, Pa. five years ago, he had no idea that he would be attempting to win his third consecutive ACC championship title. He had no idea that he would be attempting to become only the fifth wrestler in Virginia history to do so. The last wrestler who claimed three consecutive ACC titles was Bob Harwick who won in 1976, 1977, and 1978.
Harshaw arrived at Virginia with little fanfare. “I had never placed i in high school states. When I first came here, I didn’t expect a whole lot because I was not highly recruited. And here I was rooming with one of the best wrestlers in Pennsylvania,” Harshaw said. He decided to red-shirt his first year, so he competed in tournaments as an unattached wrestler. He compiled a 12-7 record while tallying five pins. The next year, Harshaw completed the season with a 17-17 mark and finished second in the ACC’s. But, it was not until his third year that his path took a definite turn towards success. A transfer student and two new assistant coaches arrived in 1996 which made an immediate impact on the course of Harshaw’s season. “During my third year, I stepped up my work ethic. Alex Leykikh transferred from Central Connecticut State and he was a great work-out partner,” said Harshaw.
Assistant coaches Charlie Branch and Jon McGovern also affected Harshaw’s training. Branch wrestled in Harshaw’s weight class which meant that a competitive opponent always existed at practice. And, Harshaw looked at McGovern, who is now ranked third in the United States in his weight class, as an example. He calls McGovern “the hardest working man [he’s] ever known.”
Leykikh, McGovern, and Branch pushed Harshaw to work harder, and the wrestler who never placed in high school states won his first collegiate state championship title. “I beat the guy who was ranked #6 in the nation and I was named Outstanding Wrestler of the Tournament. Our team won the team title and Lenny was named Coach of the Tournament. Everything was great,” Harshaw said.
Now, Harshaw is the man to beat. Besides his three championship titles this season, he took two fifth place finishes at the Keystone Classic and the Las Vegas Open. “I don’t think I put as much pressure on myself as I did last year, or even two years ago. I realize I am not going to wrestle for the rest of my life. I’m having fun. When I have fun, I wrestle better. I just go out there and do my best,” said Harshaw.
This year he doubled his pin total from last season. Harshaw’s 10 pins tie Roth’s record for most pins in a season. “Every match I go out to win by the largest margin. If it’s a pin great, or a two point decision,” said Harshaw. “You never look for a record. A record just happens because you’re striving to be the best.”
Harshaw will strive to be the best at the ACC Tournament. This season he wrestles in a different weight class. He moved up from the 150-pound class to 165. Duke senior Matt Mapes, last year’s ACC Champion at 167, will be Harshaw’s biggest competition. Harshaw defeated Mapes 7-1 earlier this season. “I want to win the ACC’s–one match at a time,” Harshaw said.
Harshaw will take this same philosophy into the NCAA’s. He will approach each match, “one match at a time.” For Matt Roth, the ACC Tournament has been his nemesis. While Harshaw has experienced much success in this tournament, Roth has fallen short of gaining the ACC title while placing second, third, and fourth. This year, Roth will not settle for anything less than a first place finish at the ACC’s. Nor will he settle for anything less than obtaining his goal–to be an All-American.
Roth arrived at Virginia just after achieving his dream of winning a high school state championship. He trained diligently to obtain this goal. “It was a goal that I worked for. But when I came here, I was burned out from working for a dream,” said Roth. Roth needed time to adjust to academics and to collegiate wrestling. He was enrolled in the engineering school and he began to question whether he could do well as a wrestler and as a student. He decided to refocus. Roth dropped engineering and applied to the McIntire School of Commerce. “I turned myself around. I made a commitment to the Commerce School and a commitment to becoming an All-American,” Roth said. This weekend’s tournament will be a major test for Roth because North Carolina’s Chuckie Connor is one obstacle which stands in his way of obtaining both the ACC title and All-American honors. Connor, who is ranked sixth in the nation, defeated Roth by a score of 2-0 earlier this season. “I train for specific dates and for specific people. I’ve been training for [Chuckie] for months,” said Roth. Four of Roth’s five losses are to guys ranked above him. Roth know he must defeat Connor in order to gain a better position in the NCAA Tournament. “This isn’t a tournament for me. I need to beat him for seedings. I need to beat someone ranked ahead of me,” Roth said.
Roth is a very intense individual. He is focused on becoming an All-American and anything less will be unacceptable. Roth practices two, or even three, times a day. He watches hours of videotape on opponents in the top twenty. He maintains a strict diet and has not had a drop of alcohol since early last summer. He trains for the NCAA’s like he trained for his dream of winning the high school state championships. “This is the last leg,” said Roth. “Yesterday, I woke up at 6:30 am and I was kind of happy.”
Roth and Harshaw have worked too long and to hard to fall short of obtaining their goals. As Roth said, it is the “last leg” of their mission. Everything that they trained for will culminate within the next two weeks. They hope their journey will end on March 20 because if they wrestle on this date, then they will be All-Americans. If both Harshaw and Roth are wrestling on March 20, then they will have reached their final destination.