Oct. 20, 2003
The University of Virginia wrestling teams is coming off the heels of one of the most successful seasons in school history. For the first time since 1975, UVa finished undefeated in the Atlantic Coast Conference after posting a perfect 4-0 record in 2002-03. The Cavaliers also recorded the most overall wins in 28 years at Virginia and matched the 1975 squad's win total of 12 after posting a mark of 12-5 in dual match victories. UVa captured the Virginia Intercollegiate State Wrestling Championship title and finished the season by winning 12 of its last 14 matches, including eight consecutive dual match wins to close out the year. Virginia's Bob Seidel (141) and Josh Etu (HWT) each won ACC Championship titles and UVa sent three individuals to Nationals to put the wraps on one of the most successful wrestling campaigns in recent memory.
As the Virginia wrestling program continues to ascend, significant changes have recently occurred catering to the program's success. The Cavaliers were aided by a $1.5 million dollar gift to enhance Virginia's competition arena - Memorial Gymnasium. UVa used $496,000 of the gift to upgrade the wrestling program's practice facility in Onesty Hall. Virginia's practice facility underwent a major renovation to include 4,000 square feet of wrestling space, new mats and wall pads, an on-site weight room and cardio workout facility, a video room equipped with a 50-inch plasma screen TV, a newly renovated locker room, new coaches offices and a study area for the UVa wrestlers.
Virginia head wrestling coach Lenny Bernstein is feeling very good these days about his program, and why not? His program has made tremendous strides both on and off the mats since he first arrived in Charlottesville 11 years ago. Bernstein is not only optimistic about his team's chances at duplicating the success it had last year, but appears ready to orchestrate a championship run and help take the Cavs another step forward in 2003-04.
"Looking at our team this year, I think we have a lot of strength in our lower weights. We have experience coming back all the way from 125 through 157," said Bernstein. "In general, the same thing goes for some of the upper weights. We have a few holes to fill from 165 on up to HWT, and some of those classes are going to be a little bit of a question mark early on. But they all have a lot of potential. We have seen some flashes of excellence at each one of the weight classes. But until we get on the mat and through the first part of the season, we really will not know exactly what we have."
One thing Bernstein and his staff does know they have is an outstanding, young competitor at 125-pounds in returning starter Brian Sticca (28-13, 12-5 in 2002-03). Sticca, a true-sophomore, turned in one of the most prolific seasons in UVa wrestling history by winning 28 matches as a true-freshman, just one win shy of the school record for wins by a freshman (29). Sticca's biggest victory of the season occurred on January 24, 2003 in an ACC dual match against North Carolina. With the match tied at 17-17 heading into the final bout, Sticca upset returning All-American Chris Rodrigues of UNC by the score of 9-4 to help the Cavaliers secure a 20-17 victory. The win was Virginia's first over North Carolina in 28 years.
"Sticca is our returning starter at 125-pounds from last year. His 28 wins as a freshman was unbelievable," said Bernstein. "He had an incredible freshman year. Sticca has gotten a heck of a lot better from last year, and that is saying something. He continues to be a sponge for information and has the type of work ethic and potential needed to be an All-American this year."
Backing up Sticca at 125-pounds this year will be the always dependable Ryan Stewart (5-8, 2-2) and sophomore Makara Phor (0-2, 0-0). Stewart, a senior, has been a jack-of-all-trades type of a wrestler throughout his career after filling in at both 125 and 133 pounds in his first three seasons.
"Stewart has always been the guy that we can count on," said Bernstein. "He has had to put in a lot of matches at 125 or 133 the past couple of years because of injuries. Plus, the fact that Ryan did start for us a couple of years ago means he has some experience as a starter and is not going panic if he is called on again. Sticca and Stewart have had some great scrambles in practice and Stewart will push Sticca for a spot on the mat."
Virginia will turn to a familiar name and face to lock down the 133-pounds class this season in Byron Dunlap (13-6, 0-0). Dunlap, a red-shirt sophomore, comes back even stronger this season after a year of conditioning. He racked up 13 victories including six dual match wins in 2001-02 at 125 pounds and should improve on those figures this season. "Right now, at 133-pounds, Dunlap is our starter," said Bernstein. "He brings a lot to the table, he has a lot of tools. Dunlap certainly grew last year. He wrestled at 133 in a couple of open tournaments and beat a few kids that were well thought of. We see a heck of a lot of potential in Dunlap because he is really solid from all positions. He has a solid work ethic and he is constantly working to improve. Dunlap is another guy that I really feel has the potential to be an All-American this year."
Sophomore Ian DeRath (7-14, 0-6) and freshman Steve Hromada are the lead candidates for the back-up spot at 133. "DeRath and Hromada are going to be backing up Dunlap, or they may possibly redshirt this year, I am not sure yet what we are going to do," said Bernstein. "DeRath saw a little time at both 125 and 133 last year, and Hromada is a very tough, hard-nosed freshman who will undoubtedly be turning in a good season."
Coaches all know the importance of good recruiting. Recruiting is the lifeline of a program. Every year, coaches across the country hit the recruiting trails in search of 'Blue-Chip' type recruits that can make an immediate and long lasting impact on a team. The trouble with recruiting these kind of athletes is, everyone else in the country is trying to do the same thing. There are only so many of these type of athletes to go around. It is not like these kind of athletes just show up at a coach's front door, right? Well, All-American Scott Moore (54-9, 15-3) may not have exactly appeared at Bernstein's front doorstep, but when he decided to transfer from Penn State to Virginia in the off-season, you can rest assure there was an orange and blue welcome mat laid out awaiting Moore's arrival to Charlottesville.
"Moore had 50-plus wins last year and actually set the NCAA record for most matches wrestled in a season, which shows a little bit about his durability," said Bernstein. "We are real excited to have him here. Moore is a pinner, he led the nation in pins last year and he is one of those guys that can light up a crowd. He brings a lot to the table, including his leadership ability. Moore has been one of those guys who has been coming to the wrestling room just about every day and getting some workouts in on his own, because his ultimate goal is to become a national champion this year. We are going to see to it that he has the best possibility of getting there."
Backing up Moore at 141 will be red-shirt sophomore Chet Naylor (4-9, 0-0), sophomore Joey Carpenter, (0-9, 0-1) freshman Aaron Martin and Thinh Phuoc Ho. Their time this season will be limited with Moore ahead of them in the rotation, but if needed this year and when called upon next season, a year of seasoning behind an All-American wrestler could pay big dividends in their own development. "Naylor is a tough kid and I think he will be a guy that can be counted on at 141 to step up if we need him to," said Bernstein. "Carpenter has got a little growing to do. He has got to really put in some more time in the weight room to fit the weight class. Martin, who was an Ohio State champ last year, will most likely be red-shirting. We have the ability to red-shirt him because of the depth that we have in this weight class."
At 149, UVa may not have the kind of name-recognition in its starter as it does at 141 entering the preseason, but that may soon change as the season wears on after watching red-shirt sophomore Jim Hartey (6-6, 0-0). "Hartey came out of nowhere," said Bernstein. "I think he is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the ACC right away. I truly think he can be an ACC champ this year and I believe he can win some matches at Nationals. Whether or not he can be an All-American will be dictated by what happens in the first semester, and how successful he is. Hartey is a very solid kid who had two years of injuries to deal with, and now I think he has finally broken away from that. He had shoulder surgery last spring and he literally had to take about three months away from the wrestling room, which was tough on him. But it got him very hungry coming back in the summer and for the fall."
Virginia's back-up at 149-pounds for Hartey will most likely be newcomer Paul Bowman.
The Cavaliers were as solid as a rock last year at 157-pounds. UVa's Tim Foley (38-10, 15-1) was a fixture in the national rankings all season long and left his name all over the Cavalier record books. Fortunately for Virginia, Foley is back for another year. However this time, he will be taking his services up a weight class and will be UVa's starter at 165 pounds. With Foley's absence at 157, the Cavaliers will search for a replacement. Enter two guys that share more than just the same first name. Red-shirt juniors Paul Bjorlo (18-19, 6-9) and Paul Dunstan (8-6, 0-0) will be looking to fill the big shoes left behind by Foley at 157 this year.
"In all likelihood, it is going to be a real battle between these two guys," said Bernstein. "Two years ago they fought tooth and nail for the spot at 149 and Dunstan just beat out Bjorlo. He wrestled at 149 and was our starter. Dunstan had a decent freshman year, and then red-shirted last season and is coming back really strong now. Bjorlo, who was our starter last year, is going to be battling it with him again. They both have gained some size and strength and we are really looking forward to seeing who emerges as the starter this year. The one who does will do a great job for us this season."
Although Tim Foley will not be suiting up at 157 this year, another Foley will, Tim's younger brother, Brian Foley. He will be joined in the 157-pound class by fellow newcomer Brian McReynolds to provide additional depth in the class. B. Foley may be in line to red-shirt his first season.
T. Foley will take his 78 career victories and 33 dual match wins with him to the 165 pound weight class this season. However, he is no stranger in dealing with adversity, on or off the mat. T. Foley began his career at 149 pounds before he blossomed into one of the nation's finest at 157 the past two years. During the off-season, he then had to await a decision concerning a hardship case before he was reinstated to compete on the team. Now, T. Foley can get back to what he does best, winning wrestling matches.
"Foley has withstood an entire year of ups and downs concerning his hardship," said Bernstein. "Through it all, he continued to train without knowing he was going to be able to compete this season. This mental toughness and competitiveness is what makes Tim a strong candidate to become an All-American this season. His leadership for our underclassmen will be critical to their development and how we ultimately mature throughout the season."
Last year, UVa's rode the broad shoulders of highly-touted Will Durkee (27-14, 10-5) at 165 pounds. With Foley now in the mix at 165, Durkee will most likely red-shirt this season and return to the class next year. UVa will turn to the services of a true freshman or a pair of young returners to nail down the back-up spot at 165. Damian Johnson, Drew Michelotti (3-1, 0-0) and Conor Manley (7-14, 1-2) all come to mind.
"Johnson was a place-winner out of Pennsylvania and is real athletic kid," said Bernstein. "Michelotti red-shirted last year and was also injured and did not gain a whole lot of matches. But he is back again as a red-shirt freshman. Manley is also scheduled to red-shirt, but may possibly break out of his red-shirt and challenge Johnson and Michelotti for the spot. Having a guy like Manley who saw some time last year is going to be helpful."
The 174-pound class appears to be a class wide open, waiting to be won. UVa has a quartet of wrestlers who could challenge for the class in returner Ram McDonald (2-15, 0-5), newcomers Michael Grogan and Conner Gentil, and 184-pound returner Dan Clark (5-2, 0-0). Any one of these four wrestlers has the tools and abilities to land the starting spot.
"McDonald is a returner and is going to be challenging for the spot, but Grogan was an Ohio State high school champion and is a tough kid who will also be challenging for it," said Bernstein. "Gentil is a local product and has some skills. They will all be in the mix, but there is a chance that Clark may be coming down to 174 from 184. I would certainly feel very comfortable having Clark there just because he is a very solid wrestler and it would make for some very good competition at 174."
With the possibility of Clark dropping down a class to 174, the possibility also exists for it to happen at 184 as well. Look for last year's 197-pound starter Zach Freday (17-11, 8-5) to cut weight and suit up at 184 this season. "Freday and I both talked about him dropping down a class," said Bernstein. "He felt that he was a little undersized last year at times, just from a height differential, because he is not a very tall guy for a 197-pounder. Freday is on a good diet and should be able to make 184 without too much of a struggle."
With Freday manning the starting rank at 184, look for newcomer Kyle Narkiewicz to serve as the back up in his first year in the program. "Narkiewicz is a possible red-shirt," said Bernstein. "He is one of our top recruits that we brought in this year, he took second in Pennsylvania. Narkiewicz is a very hard-nosed kid and he knows what college wrestling is all about. His two older brothers both went to Penn State and he knows what the cycle of a season means. A lot of guys do not realize how long the season is. Coming from Pennsylvania and having two brothers who wrestled in college at a school like Penn State, he knows what to expect."
The 197-pound class is another class up for grabs in the preseason. With Freday dropping down to 197, the Cavaliers may ask former 184-pound starter Scott Mania (9-11, 1-3) to go in an opposite direction and add weight to move up a class to 197. However, Mania will have a battle on his hands with first-year Scott Smith and returner Kevin Collier to contend with. "We have a returning starter back in Mania, who kind of took the other direction," said Bernstein. "He is going to be at 197 this year after seeing time at 184 last year. Smith is a freshman that won the Ohio States last year and he is also going to challenge Mania for the spot. But the one guy that can really throw a wrench into everything is Collier. From a potential standpoint, Collier has always had loads of potential. He is pound for pound the strongest kid on our team. Collier has been injury prone but he could be a force to be reckoned with if he is able to go. It will be interesting to see who emerges as a starter out of this weight class."
The heavyweight class was an area that UVa had a firm grip on over the last four years. Now, the Cavaliers will turn to new starter in Andrew Leffler (0-3, 0-1) to fill the void at HWT. "At this time, heavyweight is not a strength of our team," said Bernstein. "Leffler is the only heavyweight that we have, so at a depth perceptive, we do not have anyone to push him and he does not have much experience. Leffler was not a starter last year and he is still learning the sport at the college level. He was pretty good in high school, but we are trying to get him to the next step. We are going to be the most inexperienced at this weight. If needed, we may call upon someone from 197 to come up and push Leffler for the spot."