The 2007-08 Virginia wrestling season will bring a new dynamic for second-year head coach Steve Garland depth at nearly every position.
With a talented group of experienced veterans returning, as well as a heralded crop of freshmen, the Cavaliers’ hopes are riding as high as any in recent memory. Virginia returns 2007 NCAA Championship competitors Eric Albright and Rocco Caponi and welcomes in a consensus top-10 recruiting class. The combination of young and old has provided dividends from day one.
“The biggest thing the freshmen have done is elevate the level of competition in the room,” Garland said. “The older guys don’t want to get beat by the freshmen and they definitely don’t wanted to get outworked by the freshmen. Those freshmen work their tails off. I’ve never seen a group of kids so young that are so focused and dedicated to working out. It only has strengthened this team and made everyone improve.“
The Cavaliers have unprecedented depth at nearly every position with two or three wrestlers battling for starting bids at each weight. Here’s a breakdown by class:
Virginia has two returning starters at 125 2006-07 starter Ross Gitomer and 2005-06 starter Anthony Burke, who redshirted last season. Gitomer posted 20 wins last year and went 4-1 in the ACC. Burke won more than 20 matches in each of his first two seasons.
“They are both the same type of wrestler short and stocky and very hard workers,” Garland said. “They are very strong for their size and hard to score on, and they both wrestle with a lot of intensity. It’s almost like they are mirror images. Hopefully by the end of the year, the cream will rise to the top and one will be at least an ACC champion and do some big things at nationals.”
Freshman Wyatt Anderson, a third-place finisher at the Virginia state tournament a year ago, also looks to figure into the mix.
Albright returns at 133 after taking ACC runner-up honors and winning three matches at the NCAA championships. In the offseason he took third at the highly-competitive University National Championships, won the Northeast Regionals and qualified to compete at the World Team Trials.
“Eric is one of the guys who we’re looking at to truly carry the team,” Garland said. “No one in the country at his weight class worked harder than him this summer. Our highest goal for him is national champion. If he falls short of that and he’s an All-American, we’ll be happy with that, but that is how good we think Eric is.”
Freshman Matt Bonson will also compete at this weight class and will most likely redshirt this season. Bonson was a three-time Pennsylvania state medalist and freestyle state champion.
“Matt is as blue collar and hard nosed as it gets,” Garland said “We think he’ll learn a ton from Eric this season and then be ready to step in next year with some very lofty goals.”
The battle at 141 figures to be one of the toughest of any this year. Defending ACC runner-up Kellon Balum is back, but he is joined by talented freshmen Scott O’Donnell and Nick Nelson. O’Donnell was a four-time state champion out of Oak Park High School in Missouri and Nelson was a state champion and two-time state finalist from Shaler High School in Pennsylvania. Both were Top-5 nationally-ranked recruits coming out of high school.
“The sky is the limit for Kellon because he has gotten bigger and stronger,” Garland said. “We also have Scott and Nick in the mix, so we have three absolute studs at 141. At the end of the day, out of those three guys, whoever comes out of it is going to be good.”
The Cavaliers boast a wealth of depth at 149 as well, with freshmen Shawn “Hurricane” Harris and Dave Ebbott as well as returning sophomore Pat Riley and junior Peter Ferrara looking to move into a starting role. Harris was a four-time Ohio state placewinner and 2005 state champion, while Ebbott took second at the national prep tournament at 152 last year. Riley, after going 6-4 last year, also has improved immensely over the offseason and after a year in Garland’s system is looking to be the top man at this weight class. Ferrara has varsity experience and also is in the hunt for a starting position after a strong fall.
“This class is wide open this year,” Garland said. “We look for a young, inexperienced guy but a very talented guy to emerge from this position.”
Returing starter Drew DiPasquale, redshirt sophomore Kyle Artusio, redshirt freshman Beau Fisher and true freshman Danny Gonsor all have eyes on a starting spot at 157. DiPasquale posted 17 wins last year, while Fisher competed in 20 open matches. Artusio redshirted last season but was strong in the preseason, while Gonsor finished second in the Ohio state meet last year out of high school powerhouse St. Edward in Lakewood, Ohio.
“Drew is a two-time starter and former ACC runner-up, so we look for him to get the starting nod with his experience and how hard he works and how physically strong he is,” Garland said. “That being said, Danny Gonsor, Kyle Artusio and Beau Fisher are right on his heels. Fisher saw a ton of time for us last year as a first year, sometimes wrestling up two weight classes. Gonsor is one of the hardest-working young guys I have seen in my coaching career. It should be a great battle at this position.”
Junior Mike Sewell moves up a class this year and is joined at 165 by redshirt freshman Brent Fiorito and true freshman Michael Chaires. Sewell went 11-14 last year, while Fiorito posted a 20-10 mark in open tournaments. Chaires is a two-time New York state champion and was a Top-3 national recruit last year.
“Mike (Sewell) hasn’t made the waves that he should have based on his talent,” Garland said. “He needs to step up. He has the natural ability to do great things. Brent Fiorito wrestled 30 open matches last year, so he has experience. This won’t be overwhelming for him. Michael Chaires also is a tremendous talent who we have high hopes for. He isn’t afraid of anyone and he absolutely despises losing this is a heck of a combination for a true freshman to possess.”
Fifth-year senior Mike Grogan and freshman Chris Henrich each are looking for a starting bid at 174. Grogan has 71 career wins and was the 2004 and 2006 ACC runner-up. Henrich was a National Prep Champion last year and was considered by many college coaches to be on
“Mike has a wealth of experience and had a very good season last year,” Garland said. “Henrich, as a high school senior, placed at a bunch of college opens that’s how talented this kid is. So this isn’t a big deal to him he’s got the experience. Grogan will really need to work hard because Henrich will be right there waiting.”
Caponi, a two-time NCAA qualifier, has a stronghold on the 184 slot. Despite battling a knee injury last year, Caponi gutted out an ACC championship and wrestled at the NCAA championships. He went 31-9 overall last year.
“Rocco is very talented and if he doesn’t finish this year as an All-American, I’ll be very disappointed,” Garland said. “I think he would have been an All-American last year had he not blown out his LCL. He’s a big match wrestler the better the competition, the better he wrestles.”
After taking a redshirt last year, sophomore Brent Jones returns to the fold with big aspirations. Jones went 28-10 while competing in open tournaments last year.
“Brent Jones is the most underrated wrestler in the United States,” Garland said. “People don’t rank him high or give him enough credit, and I have no idea why. He’s going to shock a lot of people this year. I will be very disappointed if he’s not an All-American for us this year. He’s another big match wrestler.”
Jack Danilkowicz and Calvin Cardillo will battle it out for the heavyweight position. Danilkowicz went 7-9 as a freshman, while Cardillo will move up two weight classes after competing primarily at 184 last year.
“Jack certainly did not get as many matches as we would have liked last year, but that will change this year. He needs to step up for us. He’s bigger and stronger than last year and looks great for a heavyweight. He will be pushed by Calvin Cardillo, who is moving up two weights. He was recruited at 184 but now weighs 230 and should be very slick and have a lot more movement than most heavyweights are used to seeing. It will be interesting to see how this combination of two different body types works out for us.”
The 2007-08 Schedule
“We wanted to get the guys as many matches as possible,” Garland said. “We have four tournament competitions set up designed to get our guys a lot of matches. Even the dual meet competitions this year, like the quad meet, the Virginia Duals and the tri-meet in February, are now geared toward getting as many matches as possible for our wrestlers. If we stay healthy, we’ll have a lot of depth and I want to get everyone matches.
“I believe the best way to get better in this sport is to compete, compete, compete. We’ve got Michigan, Lehigh, Michigan State and Purdue on the schedule on top of all the tournaments we go to, so it’s one of the toughest schedules we’ve ever put together, but I also think it is going to benefit the guys greatly.”