Nov. 12, 2002
With the start of the 2002-03 season just around the corner, the University of Virginia wrestling program and head coach Lenny Bernstein are itching to get back on the mats - and with good reason. The Cavaliers are coming off the heels of a season where they finished 8-10 overall, 2-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. UVa won the Virginia Intercollegiate State Wrestling Championships, had three ACC Champions and three wrestlers compete in the NCAA Championships. With a cast of returning veterans back and the addition of some talented newcomers to the roster, the results could be even better for the Orange and Blue this season.
As is the case for most weight classes this season at UVa, there should be a tight battle for the top spot, and the 125 class is no exception. Last season, first-year sensation Byron Dunlap turned in an impressive 13-win season including six wins in dual matches. However, Bernstein is thinking about red-shirting the second-year wrestlers. "Dunlap was at 125 last year, but has grown to to the point where he can't make the weight anymore," said Bernstein. "We decided to red-shirt Byron to have him grow into a solid 133 for the years to come."
With that said, it appears the 125 class will be filled by a pair of incoming first-year wrestlers. Keep an eye on the first-year duo of Brian Sticca and Ian DeRath to follow Dunlap's lead from last season. "Sticca took second in the state meet in Pennsylvania last year," said Bernstein. "He's very talented and very explosive on his feet. I feel like he has a lot of potential to do a lot of special things here in the future. DeRath was a two-time Michigan state champ and a Top 12 finisher at the high school nationals last year. He's more of a plodder and he's really good on the mat, especially on top. He's very tough on top offensively. I don't know who's going to be the starter, but I know those guys are going to battle it out."
Look for back-up's Ryan Stewart and Makara Phor to make a push for mat time as the season wears on.
At 133, Virginia returns its ACC Champion and NCAA qualifier Joe Alexander after a season of adversity for the 133 pounder. Alexander only competed in a handful of events, but one of them was the ACC Championships where he took first place. "Alexander returns after a very injury plagued year and still won the ACC's," said Bernstein. "It was disappointing he didn't get to go to Nationals because I thought he might be able to do a little more this past year if he was healthy. This year, we are just hoping he remains healthy and I think he will. He has high goals, and his goal is to be an All-American this year. Alexander's got two more years to be a two-time All-American and he would be UVa's first two-time All-American if he can do it. Joe's got that kind of potential."
First-year newcomer Joey Carpenter will back-up Alexander, but the coaching staff does plan on using him this year. Fellow first-year wrestler Chet Naylor will be red-shirted this year and has a lot of potential in the years to come.
Returning 141 starter Bob Seidel looks to improve on a successful junior year where eight of his 11 wins came in dual action. "Seidel had a nice finish to last season, but had an up and down start to the year," said Bernstein. "I think he had a lot of self-doubt toward the beginning of the season and wasn't really wrestling well. He wasn't executing like he was capable of. Then all of a sudden, he came on very strong in the second half of the year, upset Brad Byers in the ACC semifinals, and almost beat a four-time ACC Champion in the finals. His goal is to become an All-American. Right now, he needs to work on developing a few more shots to reach that goal,
but if he works hard, he's got a chance to do it."
The 149 class may be the one class that has the most competition in search for a starting spot. On paper there are three guys fighting for the top spot in the class, with the trio of Jim Hartey, Paul Bjorlo and Steve Keleher leading the way. Last year's starter, Paul Dunstan, recorded an impressive 17 wins as a true freshman, but will most likely be red-shirted and moved up to the 157 class.
"Hartey red-shirted last season, he's a real solid kid out of Pennsylvania and placed three times in the state meet in high school. He's a real hard worker," said Bernstein. "Bjorlo had some very close losses to Dunstan last year trying to beat him out of the top spot. He's been around here for a couple years now and he knows the ropes and will be challenging hard for the position. Keleher has also been around for a while, he came in with the same class as Bjorlo. Between those three, we're going to find someone to rise to the top. The competitiveness will really drive this weight class. We'll find someone to emerge as the starter."
Don't count out 149 pounder Reed Landry in the mix either. "Landry can really battle it out," said Bernstein. "He goes non-stop, the guy just keeps going and outshapes a lot of his competition. Landry's a solid kid, you've got to beat Reed. He's like a buzz-saw."
At 157, it is to no ones surprise that Tim Foley is at the top of the class. Foley, the ACC Champion and NCAA qualifier last year, set a school-record for most dual wins by a UVa sophomore after posting an eye-opening 18-1 record. His 28 overall victories was the second most on the team and is the most wins by any returning wrestler on the team this season.
"Foley just came on very strong all year," said Bernstein. He won ACC's, he beat #9 Joe Carr from West Virginia and ended up winning a couple matches at Nationals. Foley has this year and hopefully next year to become an All-American, and I don't see anything stopping him. He's a little banged up in the preseason right now, and that may prevent him from wrestling in some of the early season tournament. But once he gets things going, he'll be back."
As was mentioned earlier, Dunstan will most likely redshirt and then move up to 157 next season. "Dunstan's a go-er," said Bernstein. "He won the Virginia Intercollegiates last year and that was kind of the vault he needed to go the rest of the season."
Newcomers Conor Manley and returning veteran James Savia will provide as solid back-ups at 157.
After the unexpected loss of 29-match winner Don Carlo-Clauss, it appears Bernstein will have two guys fighting for the starting spot at 165. The duo of second-year Will Durkee (15 wins as a true freshman) and first-year Drew Michelotti will battle it out for the top spot in the class.
"Durkee was a starter last year for a long time before Carlo-Clauss beat him out," said Bernstein. "Durkee could easily have gone to ACC's instead of Carlo-Clauss and performed as well, if not better, than Carlo-Clauss did. I've got a lot of confidence in Durkee, he is a very heady wrestler. He's very tough on the mat and a very good counter wrestler. Durkee's an extremely hard worker and his goal is to become a three-time All-American. He's got some very high goals, but I hope to see him in the spotlight as well. Michelotti is a true freshman from Michigan, but is a tough kid and has already shown he can compete with the guys at 157, 165 and 174. You never know until they get out there on the mat what they have to offer, but Michelotti's a very talented kid and a very hard worker. I'm interested to see how he pushes for that spot."
At 174, there's no doubting who the 'go-to guy' will be in Bernstein's eyes - returning starter Brian Muir (21 wins last season). "Muir's the man," said Bernstein. "He had a very nice season last year and beat some good kids. Muir's coming back for a fifth year to become an All-American. It's tough to sit here and say that each one of the guys I have talked about who want to be an All-American will be one. But if you look at each individual, if you look at the possibilities, the possibility is there for them to be an All-American. Muir, technically on his feet, is probably one of the best we have on the team, he's got a lot of tools. It's just a matter of it all coming together for him. He has gotten better ever year, and we expect him to get even better this year."
Newcomers Ram McDonnell and Peter Kang will also push for mat time at 174. They both may see some mat time but will be the back-ups to Muir in the class.
One of the more competitive classes for Bernstein to pick a starter is at 184. "It's a tough call here," said Bernstein after commenting on who will rise to the top of the class. "I think we're solid at 184, but it's kind of the same situation like at149, there's a lot of competition and someone is going to have to emerge as the starter. But we're going to be solid because of the fact that there is a lot of competition at that weight."
The 184 class will be headed by a trio of guys fighting for the top spot in first-year Dan Clark and veterans Kevin Collier and Scott Mania.
"Clark's a first-year, but he has shown he can go, he's very tough," said Bernstein. "He's a strong kid and has a lot of talent. Collier has been injured for two years now. He has a lot of talent, but we haven't had a good chance to really see him on the mat. Collier's injured again and just had surgery, but we're hoping he can come back later in the year and be able to compete. We'll have to see, it's just one of those things we'll have to let play out. Mania is coming down from 197, he was kind of outsized last year at that weight class. He'll be competing with those two at that spot."
At 197, it appears it will be a two-man race between returning veterans Zach Freday (11 wins two years ago) and Andy DeMartino (eight wins last season). "Freday was the starter two years ago and then took a year off academically, but he's back," said Bernstein. "He's a very tough kid. Freday's a hard worker and moves very fast for a big guy. DeMartino is a returning guy too, and both guys have a chance to win ACC titles. The 197 class looks to be pretty wide open this year."
After battling it out with the graduated Ryan Painter the last three years in the heavyweight class, the starting spot is all Josh Etu's this year, and Bernstein thinks it will be beneficial that way.
"Etu stands all alone this year," said Bernstein. "His goal is to become an All-American and his winning percentage is very high. Sometimes he doesn't win pretty, but he gets the job done. We're hoping that without the added pressure of having to start that he's just going to blossom this year and win some big tournaments and be consistent."
"I think this year we have a little more depth than we did last season," said Bernstein. "Hopefully injuries won't hurt us as bad as they did last season. Last year it was almost like a disease, every time we looked around someone was getting injured. Some weight classes are not replaceable and we can't afford to get injured. But we're going to be a very solid team. I think we have a team that can win the ACC, that can place in the Top 25 at Nationals and that can produce two or even three All-Americans if guys peak at the right time. We have scheduled a tough schedule and we want to make sure we get experience and get exposure."
The Cavaliers understand the task at hand to be successful this season and appear ready and determined to do battle on the mat. Talent and experience is plentiful, but the road to success is not an easy path to follow. But Bernstein knows what he and his team has to do to finish among the national elite at the end of the season. Only time will tell how high Virginia can climb.