Story Links

Oct. 9, 2001

If one had to pick a word to best describe the University of Virginia wrestling program, “Consistency” might sum it up best. The UVa wrestling program has developed into a national contender and has consistently been a formidable opponent for any squad to face. From its seven All-Americans, to its 65 individual ACC Champions, to its 341 overall team victories, the Cavaliers have made their mark on the wrestling world. With another exciting season about to unfold in 2001-2002, it is easy to see that Virginia wrestling is alive and well in Charlottesville.

Last season, UVa fought through a rigorous schedule to finish 6-8 overall in dual competition and 2-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Virginia’s .500 finish in the ACC marked the seventh consecutive year the Cavaliers finished .500 or better in the conference, equalling the second longest streak in school history set by the squads from 1969-1975. UVa finished second in the 2000-2001 ACC Wrestling Championships with 73 points as Greg Francesca (165) and Jimi Massey (184) claimed individual titles. Francesca, Massey and Joe Alexander (133) advanced to the NCAA Championships. The Cavaliers won the 2000-2001 Virginia Intercollegiates after finishing first with 112.50 points and had six individual champions and three members finish runner-up in the event. Head coach Lenny Bernstein earned Coach of the Year honors in Virginia for the third time in eight years and UVa heavyweight Josh Etu placed second in the 2001 University National Greco-Roman Championships after going in the 130 kg/286 lbs. weight class just to point out a few of Virginia’s highlights from last season.

This year, the Cavaliers return eight starters and several letterwinners in hope of improving on last season’s success. The chips appear to be in place for UVa to have another outstanding year of competition when the Cavaliers hit the mats in 2001-2002.

Last year, the 125 class had the biggest shoes to fill following the graduation of 2000 All-American and NCAA runner-up, Steve Garland. Ryan Stewart was thrown into the mix as a true freshman and learned under fire. Stewart recorded six wins (6-20 overall, 2-12 duals) in his first-year campaign, but more importantly, he gained a valuable year of collegiate wrestling experience and discovered what it is going to take to be the man at 125.

“Stewart is a returning starter from last year and I think a year of experience under his belt is going to help him a lot,” said Bernstein. “I do not think he was ready to step right in last year, but now that he has had a year of experience, I think you are going to see some improvement from him.”

Look for the true-freshman duo of Byron Dunlap and Eric Hawes to also figure into the 125 rotation with Stewart.

“Dunlap placed a couple of times in the Pennsylvania State Championships, and Pennsylvania is a pretty tough state to win – maybe the toughest in the country,” said Bernstein. “Dunlap brings with him a lot of experience and will be fighting for the top 125 spot along with Eric Hawes. Hawes is a local Virginia kid who went to the state finals three times. He won the state in his senior year and placed second his junior and sophomore season’s. Both guys should be battling for the starting 125 spot.”

At 133, Joe Alexander had an outstanding finish down the stretch last year. Alexander, a redshirt-sophomore, went 15-13 overall, 3-4 in dual matches but really made a name for himself after finishing runner-up at the ACC Championships and advancing to the NCAA Championships. At the NCAA’s, he won two of his first three matches before being eliminated after four bouts. Alexander’s late-season heroics has made him one to keep an eye on in 2001-2002.

“Alexander is a returner at 133 and had a tremendous year last season after taking second in the ACC and winning two matches at Nationals as a red-shirt freshman,” said Bernstein. “He has three years of eligibility remaining and should be a huge presence for us at 133.”

Redshirt-junior Matt Viola will challenge Alexander after he dropped down a weight class from 141 to 133 in the off-season.

“Viola will push Alexander for the starting spot,” said Bernstein. “Viola was at 141 last year and made the determination last spring to drop down to 133 pounds. He is dedicated to being a factor in that class.”

Redshirt-junior Bob Seidel is just one of two Cavaliers coming off a 20-win season after going 20-8 overall, 7-2 in duals matches last year. Seidel finished second at the Virginia Intercollegiate and placed third at the ACC Championships. He looks to build upon last season’s success in hopes of even better results this year.

“Seidel is a returning starter at 141 and had a good record last year, but had a little trouble in the ACC Championships,” said Bernstein. “He could have went to Nationals last year and gained exposure but he came up a little short. Seidel will be tough to beat out this year but we do have a couple guys who are behind him right now that could challenge him for the starting spot.”

Returning second-year wrestler Steve Keleher and first-year newcomer Jim Hartey not only add depth to the team at 141, but will push Seidel for the starting spot.

“Keleher was red-shirted last year and this will be his year to challenge Seidel,” said Bernstein. “Keleher brings a lot of experience in terms of his high school career where he was a three-time state champion in Virginia. That is pretty incredible because there are not a lot of three-time state champions in Virginia from class AAA, but he is one of them. I definitely think he is going to push Seidel hard for the starting spot.

“Hartey may red-shirt at 141, we are not sure at this time,” said Bernstein. “He has placed three times in the state of Pennsylvania, so he has a good wrestling background. Hartey is a tough kid and has shown so far to be a very hard worker.”

The Cavaliers have a big hole to fill at 149 following the graduation of P.J. Bory, the 1999-2000 ACC champion. Bory went 18-9 overall, 8-3 in dual matches last season and won the Virginia Intercollegiates and placed third at the ACC Championships. The frontrunner to fill Bory’s vacancy is somewhat undetermined, leaving the race for the top spot wide open at 149 for John Christopher (3-5 overall in 1999-2000). The returning trio of Paul Bjorlo (0-2), Scott Douglas (1-2) and Reed Landry (2-4) join newcomer Paul Dunstan in the mix at 149. James Savia (0-2) could see action at 149 or 157.

“Christopher is a strong candidate right now at 149,” said Bernstein. “He is coming back after a year lay-off and has rededicated himself to this team. We feel like he brings a lot of experience with him.”

“Bjorlo has just as good of a shot to start as anyone,” said Bernstein. “He has added a lot of strength from last season and that is one of the things he was really missing last season. One year in the weight room has really made him formidable in this weight class. Dunstan is also very tough, he took third in the Ohio State Championships and placed third in the Beast of the East Tournament in Delaware. He is a little smaller than a natural 149, so we are going to try and put some strength on him.”

After turning in a solid year of performances at 157, Don Carlo-Clauss will look to build upon his success and step it up another notch this year. Carlo-Clauss finished 16-13 overall, 7-7 in dual match action last season and placed runner-up in the ACC Championships and finished third at the Virginia Intercollegiates.

“Carlo-Clauss had a good year last season, but maybe not as good as he wanted to,” said Bernstein. “He took second at ACC’s and did not have as good of a conference final as he would liked to have had, which probably prevented him from advancing to Nationals. Carlo-Clauss has been in the weight room a lot and I think it is really going to help him this season.”

The 157 starting spot will not fall solely on Carlo-Clauss shoulders, however. He will have to fight for the starting spot against the depth and talent in the class in Tim Foley (8-4), Matt Gallagher (3-2) and Ernesto Vera (3-10, 0-2).

“Foley placed first at the Virginia Intercollegiates last year, ahead of Carlo-Clauss,” said Bernstein. “He did not wrestle Carlo-Clauss in the tournament, but he did beat the guy that Carlo-Clauss lost to. Vera could be a factor as well after seeing some starting time at 149 last season. Gallagher is also very talented and is finally ready to have a chance to step up at 157 after some injuries last year. Any one of these guys could emerge as the man at 157.

Greg Francesca, a co-captain of this year’s team, is the defending ACC champion. He returns for the Cavaliers at 165 and should be a force to reckon with. Francesca was one of three UVa wrestlers to advance to the NCAA Championships last year, and he looks to make a return visit again this season. He finished two wins shy of 20 victories last year after going 18-15 overall, 7-7 in dual match action with first places finishes at the ACC Championships and the Virginia Intercollegiates. The coaching staff is expecting big things from the red-shirt senior.

“Francesca is the returning ACC champion and is the man to beat right now at 165. He is also going to be a leader for this team,” said Bernstein. “He gained a lot of confidence after last year. Francesca red-shirted the year before and he took that year off to take a step back and get better. He always seemed to do well in practice but did not really translate that to the mat. Last year, he completely translated it to the mat. Francesca has a chance to be an All-American this year.”

Senior Cartney Curnuck and first-year newcomer Will Durkee add solid depth at 165 behind Francesca. Curnuck finished 2-3 overall, 0-1 in dual match action last season but did turn in a 2-2 mark in the Virginia Intercollegiates.

“Curnuck, a fifth-year, is a solid guy who should be able to back some people up at either 165 or 174,” said Bernstein. “Durkee is a Pennsylvania state champion and a tough kid, but will likely be red-shirted this year with Francesca holding down the class.”

Brian Muir looks to be the man to beat at 174. Over his career, improvement may be the word that best describes this red-shirt junior. Muir went from 7-20 overall, 1-10 in dual match action in 1999-2000 to 14-16 overall, 4-7 in dual matches last season. The coaching staff is looking for similar progress from him this year as well.

“Muir had a lot of good spots last year,” said Bernstein. He was at 165 last year for a long time and battled it out with Francesca before losing to him in the finals of the Virginia Intercollegiates. It was the second or third time they had wrestled each other and that is when he decided to move up to 174. He is bigger this year and I think he might fit the weight class better. I feel he has more confidence now after wrestling some of the bigger guys last season. We think there is going to be a lot of improvement there for him at 174 now that he is more solid.”

However, the return of a healthy Kevin Collier will push Muir. Collier battled through an injury plagued season where he finished 2-3 overall, 1-1 in dual match action last year. Collier started his UVa career with a bang after posting an 18-3 technical fall victory in his first match as a Cavalier.

“Collier was injured last year, and he is still battling an injury right now and may not return until the middle of the season,” said Bernstein. “He and Muir may be battling it out in the middle of the year when he returns though. Collier is very explosive, he is a very strong kid, and we saw a lot of promise from him last year before he was injured.”

A familiar face returns to the UVa wrestling program in Steve Mazzola. Mazzola, the starter at 174 two years ago, is back with Virginia and looks to add depth and improve on his 8-16 overall, 3-8 mark in dual match action in 1999-2000.

“Mazzola returned to the team after starting for UVa two years ago as a freshman,” said Bernstein. “He is back on the team after a one-year absence and should push either Muir or Collier for a starting spot. Mazzola worked out with some great competition back in Ohio last year, but it will be interesting to see how his timing is after a year off from college wrestling.”

Virginia has developed three All-Americans over the last three years, and Jimi Massey at 184 is the best candidate to make it four All-Americans in four years. Massey is coming off the heels of an outstanding 2000-2001 campaign where he finished 18-10 overall, 10-3 in dual matches and was named the ACC Champion after winning his class and advancing to the NCAA Championships.

“Massey is the returning ACC champion at 184 and is a co-captain on this year’s team. He has completely dedicated himself this summer to getting better, and has literally traveled to camps all over the country to improve himself and fulfill his goal of being an All-American,” said Bernstein. “Massey has improved every year that he has been here and is a very serious competitor. He is following a formula that some of our former All-Americans have done. Massey has picked up on what he needs to do to be successful and is going to be very tough to beat out at 184.”

Although the coaching staff is not expecting anyone to supplant Massey from the top spot at 184, they will be counting heavily on Massey to provide excellent results in the class after the unexpected loss of Ryan McGrath, who was considered by some to be an All-American candidate himself. UVa will be searching for a back-up for Massey as the season wears on.

The departure of Scott Mania accounts for the limited depth at 184. Mania, 3-8 overall, 0-1 in dual match action at 184 last season, is making the jump from 184 to 197 and Bernstein feels comfortable the move will be a good one for Mania and the team.

“Mania was called up from 184 to 197 in the summer,” said Bernstein. “He was okay with it, he has shown he wants to start right now. Mania is probably more natural at 184 but he has added some good strength this summer and should be very competitive.”

Mania will not have to carry the load alone at 197 with the return of junior Andy DeMartino. DeMartino also finished 3-8, but in a backup role at 197.

“DeMartino will be battling it out with Mania and it should be interesting to see what happens. We need someone to emerge as a starter rather than me picking a starter,” said Bernstein.

In what again may be the most competitive weight class on the UVa squad, the heavyweight battle is turning out to be the Ryan Painter and Josh Etu show once again. Painter finished 13-9 overall, 3-3 in dual match action last season and finished first at the Virginia Intercollegiates. Etu boasted a record of 20-7 overall, 4-4 in dual match action last year and won the Keystone Open and Penn State Open. He also finished runner-up at the ACC Championship, the Virginia Intercollegiates and the Mat Town Invitational. Either one of these two heavyweights could earn the starting job, but the success of both wrestlers has made Bernstein’s decision on a starter all the more difficult.

“Painter was determined to come back this year and have another shot at starting and becoming an All-American,” said Bernstein. “He has put on some incredible size. He is up to about 260-265 pounds and is stronger than he has ever been. Painter is extremely dedicated, but he is going to have to be to battle it out with Etu. He needs to perform better in the early tournaments or outperform Etu to gain the top spot.”

“Etu had a tremendous year last season and won a couple tournaments,” said Bernstein. “He had 20 wins and took second in the ACC. Etu will be tough to beat out at heavyweight, but Painter beat him in the Virginia Intercollegiates last year in the finals. That’s how competitive this weight class is on the team.”

Matt Magerko may not be ready for a starting spot in the heavyweight class just yet, but he has two outstanding models to follow in Painter and Etu.

“Magerko is going to learn quite a bit with Etu and Painter to battle with. He is a little bit smaller than those two, but he is a two-time state champion in Virginia,” said Bernstein. “Magerko is a strong kid who is around 245-250 pounds. He is a little raw, but we will see what type of a learning curve he has in terms of technique. I know this much, he is going to have some great workouts.”

— UVA —

Print Friendly Version