By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – Jack Mueller, an All-American at 125 pounds as a true freshman in 2016-17, will wrestle again for Virginia, but it won’t be until the 2019-20 season.
Mueller, who competed at 133 pounds for the Cavaliers as a sophomore, will redshirt this season. He’s focused on preparing for the Under-23 world freestyle championships, to be held in November in Bucharest, Romania.
In June, at USA Wrestling’s U23 trials in Akron, Ohio, Mueller went 7-0 to win the 57-kilogram (125.7-pound) class.
Mid-career redshirts are not uncommon in college wrestling, and for “the past two years, he and his family have been thinking about it and talking about it,” UVA head coach Steve Garland said, “and Jack and I have been talking about it.
“That’s the way you want to make a decision that’s this big. You want to do it with a well-thought-out, well-analyzed, well-vetted process.”
At one point, Mueller considered redshirting in 2019-20 to try to make the U.S. freestyle team for the 2020 Olympics, but “something was tugging on his heart to do it sooner,” Garland said, “and frankly when he made the world [U23] team, it actually made the decision more clear for everybody.”
Freestyle wrestling differs significantly from folkstyle wrestling, which is used at the high school and college levels in the United States. (Folkstyle is also known as scholastic or collegiate.) Switching from one style to another during a college season is challenging, said Garland, who’s an assistant coach on the U.S.’s U23 freestyle team and will be with Mueller in Romania.
Mueller, a graduate of Trinity Christian Academy in the Dallas suburb of Addison, Texas, said folkstyle “is more of a grind and a mental-toughness check. Freestyle, it’s more skilled-based and finesse.”
As a sophomore, Mueller dealt with a series of injuries and finished 24-7 after losing in the round of 12 at the NCAA championships in Cleveland. He expects to return to college competition a better wrestler after his redshirt year.
“After last season kind of being a letdown and then making the world team,” Mueller said, “I think it’s a really good season for me to get my eyes back on the prize and work as hard as I can every day and hopefully make some gains in my wrestling that I haven’t made yet.”
Not only did injuries hinder Mueller last season, his adjustment to a new weight class was not as smooth as he’d hoped.
“I just didn’t think that my stuff on top was working as well as it was when I was at 125,” he said.
When he dropped back down to 125 for the U23 freestyle trials in Ohio, he found it easier to hit his favorite moves, “because I could just overpower a lot of people,” Mueller said.
After he returns from the world championships, Mueller will wrestle unattached at several college tournaments, Garland said, probably at 133 pounds.
“I feel good about it,” Garland said of Mueller’s decision to redshirt. “The downside is that, wow, we just knocked an All-American out of our lineup. But it would be a bigger deal if we didn’t have amazing guys” to fill that spot.
Candidates to replace Mueller at 133 pounds are redshirt freshman Brian Courtney, sophomores Sam Book and Scott Kiyono, and true freshman Ben Kamali.
Courtney, wrestling unattached at 141 pounds last season, posted a 21-9 record. He’s probably a “more natural fit” at 133, Garland said.
“Going forward, I think he’s going to put muscle on, I think he’s going to grow, I think God will take over and change his body. But right now, where he’s at physically, it actually works out great. He’s a total stud. He’s an amazing kid. He’s one of my favorite guys I’ve ever coached already.”
Courtney is “going to shock a lot of people, for sure,” Mueller said. “He’s more than capable.”
Garland stressed that Courtney “will be pushed every step of the way to make the starting lineup. Guys like Scotty Kiyono and Sam Book are tough and getting better as well, and they are hungry to compete and be the guy there too, and when you factor in a freshman like Kamali, who’s fantastic, we will have competition that will make them all better to see who’ll be the guy ultimately at that weight.”
The Cavaliers’ roster includes only two seniors, 184-pounders Will Schany and Chance McClure. Each is in his fifth year in the program.
“We potentially could have four to six freshman or sophomore starters,” Garland said. “That’s as young as it gets. So we’re still going to have some growing pains.”
Garland is heading into his 13th season as head coach at his alma mater. His projected lineup for 2018-19:
* 125 pounds: Redshirt sophomore Louie Hayes, an NCAA tournament qualifier at this weight last season. Like Mueller, Hayes lost in the round of 12.
* 133 pounds: Courtney, Book, Kiyono or Kamali. Book posted a 16-11 record last season.
* 141 pounds: Redshirt junior Sam Krivus, a two-time NCAA tournament qualifier at 149. Krivus went 2-2 at NCAAs last season.
* 149 pounds: Sophomore Jake Keating or redshirt sophomore Sam Martino. Keating went 25-15 last season.
* 157 pounds: Redshirt freshman Cam Coy, redshirt sophomore Michael Murphy or true freshman Justin McCoy. Coy, wrestling unattached last season, went 14-9.
* 165 pounds: Coy, Murphy or McCoy.
* 174 pounds: True freshman Robert Patrick or sophomore Michael Battista.
* 184 pounds: Schany or McClure. Schany was an NCAA tournament qualifier at 174 last season.
* 197 pounds: Redshirt junior Tyler Love or redshirt sophomore Jay Aiello. Love competed at heavyweight at the NCAA championships last season.
* 285 pounds: Redshirt freshman Quinn Miller or sophomore Brian Kennerly.
In all, 12 wrestlers from UVA competed at the U23 freestyle trials in Ohio. Standouts, in addition to Mueller, included Hayes, Courtney, Krivus, Keating and Love.
“I’m dead serious when I say this: We’re going to be really, really good in a year or two,” Mueller said. “We’re so young right now, and there’s just a lot of talent.”
Garland agreed. “God willing, if we’re healthy, that’s going to be character-wise, talent-wise, culture-wise the best group of kids I’ve ever had, collectively,” he said.