By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — For the third time in four seasons, the UVa wrestling team placed in the top 25 at the NCAA championships. Coach Steve Garland is proud of that accomplishment. He’s also disappointed the Cavaliers didn’t finish higher.
At the NCAAs, wrestlers who earn All-America status by finishing in the top eight of their respective weight classes pile up points for their teams.
Redshirt senior Jedd Moore placed sixth at 157 pounds and redshirt sophomore Nick Sulzer finished eighth at 165, giving Virginia multiple All-Americans in the same season for the fifth time in the program history. Two other Cavaliers — redshirt senior Matt Snyder at 125 and freshman George DiCamillo — lost in the round of 12. With another win, they would have been All-Americans too, and Virginia would have finished higher than No. 21.
“Watching Snyder lose was absolutely heartbreaking, because he’s been there before, and we know how good he is,” Garland said.
Snyder, the No. 8 national seed at 125, went 2-2 last week in Des Moines, Iowa. Among the wrestlers he defeated was North Dakota State’s Trent Sprenkle, who came back to place fifth in the tournament.
DiCamillo, the No. 11 seed at 133, went 3-2 at the NCAAs. Two other UVa wrestlers who entered the tournament as All-America candidates — redshirt senior Derek Valenti (149) and redshirt junior Jon Fausey (174) — each went 1-2 in Des Moines. Valenti, who redshirted last season, finished eighth at 149 in 2011 to earn All-America honors.
“We wanted four All-Americans,” Garland said. With Valenti and Fausey, “we could have had five or six. So we’re not happy with the two All-Americans, but we’re really happy for Jedd and Nick. It doesn’t take away the accomplishment. It actually magnifies their accomplishment.”
Moore is from Mount Vernon, Ohio, about 55 miles northeast of Columbus. Seeded No. 12 at 157, he won his first two matches at the NCAAs, upsetting the No. 5 seed in one of them, before losing to Northern Iowa’s David Bonin. That meant Moore would have to face his longtime nemesis, Virginia Tech redshirt senior Jesse Dong, in the All-American round.
He was 0-5 against Dong coming into the match, but Moore won 7-3 in sudden-victory time.
“It was amazing,” Garland said. “To finally see the look of elation, relief, joy and pride that was on his face when he waved to his family, man, I can’t put into words. We had this little social afterwards, and I started crying, and I said, `I can’t tell you what I was thinking when I was watching him, other than, thank God.’ He needed that win. If anybody needed to beat anybody, it was him beating Jesse Dong.
“That’s the guy he had to beat to get his dream. It wasn’t just that he won the All-American round. It’s that he had to beat a guy he’s never beaten. That’s a pretty good Rocky story.”
Moore followed his win over Dong by pinning Nebraska’s James Green, the No. 4 seed.
Sulzer, the No. 8 seed at 165, became only the second UVa sophomore to earn All-America honors, joining Chris Henrich (2009). Sulzer starred in the storied program at St. Edward High School in Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, and expectations have been high for him since he arrived at Virginia.
“One thing Nick told me this year is, `Coach, I’m so sick of everybody telling me how good I am. I don’t need to hear it anymore,’ ” Garland said. “I didn’t even realize it till he told me that, but think about that pressure, that he’s been the savior since the second he got here. So when that poor kid won the All-American round, I was the one jumping up and down and hugging him and screaming. He was tearing up and he hugged me, because we’ve got a great relationship, but I almost feel like 99 percent of his emotion was pure relief.
“I know it was a relief for him. I know everybody was relieved, including me, because I know how good he is.”
UVa was represented in nine of the 10 weight classes at the NCAA tournament, as were Iowa and Ohio State. Only five teams qualified in all 10: Penn State, Oklahoma State, Minnesota, Missouri and Virginia Tech. At the ACC tournament in early March, the Hokies totaled 95.5 points to win the team title, and the Cavaliers were second with 90.5.
Eight of Virginia’s nine wrestlers won at least one match at the NCAAs. The exception was redshirt sophomore Joe Spisak at 141.
In his first match, against top-seeded and undefeated Hunter Stieber of Ohio State, Spisak fell 8-5. That was also the final score of his loss to Oklahoma State’s Julian Feikert in a match that Spisak led 3-0 in the third period.
“He completely dominated 6 minutes and 40 seconds of that match, that’s the truth,” Garland said.
“Joe wrestled well. He just didn’t win. He wrestled way better than his results indicated, and we told him that. Obviously he was devastated after the tournament, and it made it worse, I’m sure, that he was the only guy who didn’t make it to the second day. I just kept telling him over and over again, `Joe, you wrestled your heart out,’ but that doesn’t make it any better.”
Of the nine wrestlers Virginia sent to Des Moines, four were seniors: Snyder at 125, Valenti at 149, Moore at 157 and Mike Salopek at 197. But UVa, which finished 16-4 in dual meets this season, should be strong again in 2013-14.
The Cavaliers’ All-America candidates are likely to include DiCamillo, Spisak, Fausey, Sulzer and 149-pounder Gus Sako, who redshirted this season.
Fausey won the ACC championship at 184 pounds in 2012 before dropping down a weight class this season. He’s expected to move back to 184 next season. If Fausey does so, incoming freshman Tyler Askey could take over for him at 174.
Askey is a senior at Northgate High School in Newnan, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta. He went 194-0 and won four state titles during his high school career. “He’s a freak show,” Garland said.
Candidates to replace Snyder at 125 pounds will include Nick Herrmann, a freshman from Amarillo, Texas, who redshirted this season. “He was our crown jewel in last year’s recruiting class,” Garland said.
At 157, Blaise Butler, a redshirt freshman this season, is the front-runner to replace Moore. Where Stephen Doty will wrestle is unclear.
“He’s got three choices: Go down [to 174], wrestle off Jon [at 184], or go up to ’97,” Garland said.
Doty, a redshirt junior, was the ACC runner-up at 184 pounds this season and went 2-2 at the NCAA tournament. “Talk about a guy who developed as the season kept going,” Garland said. “He’s a stud.”
Also in the mix at 197 will be Zach Nye and Patrick Gillen, redshirt freshmen this season. The top heavyweights will be Derek Papagianopoulos, who was slowed by injuries this season, and Ethan Hayes, who redshirted.
Papagianopoulos, a redshirt sophomore, was ACC runner-up this year. He lost in the final to David Marone, one of four redshirt seniors to win ACC titles for Virginia Tech.