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The Virginia wrestling team kicks off the 2011-12 season this Saturday at Memorial Gymnasium as Anderson and Campbell come to town for a double dual. The Cavaliers return eight starters from the 2010-11 squad and also have eight former NCAA qualifiers in the mix. Virginia is ranked 17th nationally in the preseason InterMat Team Tournament-Strength Rankings. Here is a weight-by-weight breakdown for this season for the Cavaliers.

125 Pounds:
Redshirt junior Matt Snyder returns this season after going 26-11 and reaching the NCAA Round of 12 last year. He went 3-2 at the 2011 NCAA Championships, eventually losing a heartbreaking 1-point battle to three-time All-American Zach Sanders of Minnesota in the placing round. Snyder is one of the team’s top students and is living on the Lawn at UVa this year.
Others to watch: UVa brought in a pair of freshmen who can either go 125 or 133 this season. Jimmy Nehls was a high school All American and a two-time state place-winner from Illinois. Jeremy Hurley was the 2011 Virginia state champion. The duo provides much needed depth and have pushed Snyder.

NCAA qualifier Joe Spisak returns for his second season. Spisak won 23 matches and was the ACC runner-up before earning an NCAA berth as a rookie. Spisak will be pushed by freshman Joseph Martinez, a three-time state champion from Colorado who won the NHSCA Junior National Championship as a junior. Matt Nelson will be trying to make the 133-pound weight class this season. After sitting out the last few seasons with a serious concussion, Nelson was medically cleared to start training hard again and has made a tremendous comeback.

Two-time NCAA qualifier Nick Nelson returns at 141 pounds for his senior season. Currently competing as a graduate student (MS in Commerce), Nelson narrowly missed All-America honors as a sophomore and will be aiming for a podium finish at NCAAs. Nelson missed most of the year before returning for the ACC tournament, where he defeated Virginia Tech’s Chris Diaz twice to finish in third place and earn an NCAA berth. Gus Sako stepped in when Nelson was injured last year and competed in 43 matches. Sako put on some muscle over the summer and should be factor at this weight. Freshman Mason Popham, from Pennsylvania, also will be competing at this weight. Popham was two-time state placewinner.

All-American Derek Valenti returns for his senior season. Valenti has grown into one of the team’s most vocal leaders. Garland notes Valenti is “one of the most mentally sound athletes I’ve ever coached and his toughness quotient is off the charts.” He started his junior year with a 12-11 record before rattling off 15 wins in his last 19 matches en route to an eighth-place finish and All-America honors at NCAAs. Fifth-year senior Shawn Harris, a former NCAA qualifier and ACC runner-up himself, is another tireless worker who has arguably the best technique on the team. After competing at 157 last year, he will move back to 149 this year.
Freshman David Wesley will be in the mix at this weight class as well. Wesley was a high school National Champion, two-time Virginia state champion and National Prep runner-up. Senior Sam MacGregor also returns at this weight this year and will provide plenty of experience and depth at this weight.

2010 NCAA qualifier Jedd Moore will drop down from 165 to compete at 157 this year. Moore, who won 30 matches as a freshman, has battled a major foot injury that required surgery the past two seasons. He is now back to full health; Garland expects his strength and explosiveness at this weight to be a big factor in his success. Redshirt sophomore Nicky Gordon also returns at this weight. He boasts a tremendous skill set, is explosive and has great speed from the outside.
Redshirt freshman Tanner Hirstine and freshman Blaise Butler will be competing for the starting spot as well. Hirstine, a former state champion from Colorado, redshirted last season but still competed in several open tournaments and is just starting to realize his potential. Butler is another promising newcomer, who also is one of the fastest guys on the team. Butler is a two-time All-American and two-time state placer from Illinois.

After a strong redshirt season, Nick Sulzer is expecting to have a breakout year. Sulzer went 24-5 last season and won four open tournaments. Garland labels Sulzer a “freak.” “If he continues to develop on the mat this season, we think he can become our first ever freshman to place at the NCAA tournament,” Garland said. Walk-on Luke Barney from Virginia has been a great addition to the team this year and provides added depth at this weight.

After the graduation of three-time All-American Chris Henrich, UVa will have an interesting battle at this class. Junior Stephen Doty, who became a fan favorite last season by bumping up to 197 for several matches, will be in the mix. Doty posted a 25-9 record last year while competing at 174, 184 and 197. Sophomore Billy Coggins also is looking to break through at this weight. He is one of the best technical wrestlers on the team, with great technique and positioning.
Freshman Vinny Waldhauser comes in following a decorated high school career. Waldhauser was a high school All-American and two-time California state runner-up. He took second place in the Iron Man his senior year.

NCAA qualifier Jon Fausey returns after winning 29 matches and going 2-2 at the NCAA tournament last year. He made some big gains over the summer and is expected to have a strong 2011-12 season. Highly-touted freshman Nick Kidd will push Fausey. Kidd won the National Prep Championships as a senior in high school and defeated some of the top heavyweights in the nation along the way. He is very good from the top position and also is a great scrambler.

This marks one of UVa’s deepest classes. Headlining this weight class are Mike Salopek and Ryan Malo. Salopek won the 2010 ACC Championship at 184 pounds and qualified for the NCAA tournament. Last season he was ranked as high as 12th in the country before a major shoulder injury hampered his success. Salopek now is healthy again and anticipates a big year. He will be challenged at this weight by Malo, who transferred to UVa from Williams College, where he was a three-time Division III All American and two-time NCAA runner-up. He is a big 197-pounder who is very good from the top position. Freshman Zach Nye had a great high school career that included a runner-up finish in the Pennsylvania AAA state championships and a third-place at the Super 32 tournament.

UVa also has more depth at heavyweight this season. Redshirt freshman Derek Papagianopoulos is the front-runner at this weight but will be pushed by freshmen Patrick Gillen and Ethan Hayes. Papagianopoulos had a great redshirt freshman season last year and went 22-9 in open competition. Gillen is a two-time Connecticut state champ and a four-time high school All-American. Hayes was also a two-time state champion from Ohio.

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