A Program on the Rise
Virginia will play host to the first-ever college wrestling event in John Paul Jones Arena on Jan. 5 with the Virginia Intercollegiate Championships. Six teams from the state of Virginia will compete in the day-long event, which will kick off at 9:30 a.m.
Nationally-ranked Old Dominion, the defending champion, highlights the field and boasts four top-25 rated wrestlers. The Monarchs and Cavaliers will be joined by The Apprentice School, George Mason, Liberty and VMI.
Tickets are available on the day of the competition at the JPJA box office.
Steve Garland is building Virginia Wrestling into one of the nation’s top programs
By Andy Fledderjohann, Athletics Media Relations
It’s been quite the season for the Virginia wrestling team.
And that is after just one semester. The best could still be yet to come for Virginia’s young grapplers, who have garnered attention throughout the wrestling world this season after one of their best starts to a season.
Buoyed by a top-10 ranked freshman class, the Cavaliers have soared to a 7-1 record entering the holiday break, with wins over several prominent national programs, including Clarion, Lehigh, Purdue and Michigan State. The Cavaliers already have matched their win total from a season ago.
“I don’t know if the fall semester could have gone any better,” second-year head coach Steve Garland said. “We are 7-1 and obviously it would be nice to be undefeated, but the one match we lost was to No. 5 Michigan, a national powerhouse, and our 197-pounder (Brent Jones) was winning 6-5 and was hit with a home-run move and got spladled and pinned. If he wins that match, the entire match would have come down to heavyweight.”
Virginia has three wrestlers ranked nationally Rocco Caponi (seventh at 184 pounds), Eric Albright (ninth at 133) and freshman Michael Chaires (20th at 165). Caponi has swept through the early schedule with a perfect 17-0 record, while Albright sits at 10-1 each were participants at the 2007 NCAA Championships.
Garland, a 2000 UVa alum and All-American, has changed Virginia’s scheduling philosophy since his arrival last year. The Cavaliers did not compete in nearly as many matches in the past, but Garland loaded the early schedule this season with eight dual meets and three open tournaments to give the entire team a wealth of extra opportunities to compete.
“The main thing I have said since the start of the start of the season is my main objective was to get the kids as many matches as possible,” Garland said. “Well, objective completed. Everybody was wrestling and getting better, and that is showing in our wrestling room. The level of technique and intensity is heightened in the room because the only way you get better in wrestling is to actually wrestle. That sounds so basic, but it really is true.”
The solid freshman class also has created a completely different dynamic in the Cavaliers’ wrestling room. Competition is now the name of the game, and no starting spot is ever secure.
“We talk so much about the freshmen in the press releases, and I’ll brag to anyone who will listen about what type of kids they are and their character and work ethic,” Garland said. “They validated everything I have been saying and have been everything we hoped.
“Nick Nelson lost 3-0 to the No. 2 guy in the country, and he was in some great scrambles and was right there with him. Michael Chaires is nationally ranked in one poll after a semester and has wrestled some great competition. Chris Henrich has battled with the big guys at 174 as a true freshman. Matt Bonson has 19 wins. The list goes on and on. But we also wanted the freshmen to raise the level of the older guys. There you go Mike Chaires is pushing Mike Sewell at 165 and all of a sudden Sewell is 16-3 after going 8-11 last year. He got better because you need to have guys pushing you. Again, it shows how good these kids are.”
The returning wrestlers aren’t too shabby either. A total of 14 Cavaliers, including nine returnees, already have 10 or more wins. In all, Virginia wrestlers have won more than two-thirds of their matches this season, going 276-132 (67.6 percent).
The competition for positions will continue to be fierce as Virginia moves into the spring semester. The ACC is in the midst of a big upswing and should have one of its most competitive seasons in years. The Cavaliers also have tough non-conference duals with Appalachian State and UNC Greensboro and will face stellar fields in the Southern Scuffle, Virginia Duals and Virginia Intercollegiates.
“We have our work cut out for us, but now we can switch the philosophy for the rest of the year to where we are not as concerned about getting the guys as many matches but more to peaking the guys better than last year and managing injuries,” Garland said. “The anxiety level is going to kick up a thousands notches. If these guys thought the first semester was hard, just wait until the second. These matches at the end of the year are where you find out what your guys can do and see how they respond to pressure.”