The Virginia wrestling team, ranked a program-best 21st in the latest USA Today/InterMat/NWCA Division I Team Rankings, travels to Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday for the third annual ACC/Big Ten Clash at Eddie Smith Field House. The Cavaliers face off against three teams from the powerful Big Ten Conference No. 12 Wisconsin at noon, No. 9 Illinois at 2 p.m. and Michigan State at 4 p.m.
UVa moved up from 23rd to 21st in the national rankings after a strong showing at the Michigan State Open on Sunday. The team ranking is the best in school history. Seven Cavaliers placed in the event, with Chris Henrich (So., Lansdale, Pa.), Brent Jones (Jr., Burke, Va.) and Matt Bonson (Fr., Lewistown, Pa.) winning championships at 174 pounds, 197 pounds and 133 pounds, respectively.
“It’s always nice to see a high ranking,” Virginia head coach Steve Garland said. “It shows how much our peers respect this team and that people are taking notice. We had a solid tournament start so obviously this helped out with the rankings. The Michigan State Open is a meat grinder. Some of our kids got eight matches in one day. It was a great test for our kids and this coming weekend will be no different. This is where we'll see what we are made of. We would love to keep moving up the rankings, but I truly just want to see our kids compete hard and keep improving.”
In addition to the team ranking, Virginia has three of its wrestlers ranked in InterMat’s national top 25 in their respective weight classes. Rocco Caponi (Sr., Uniontown, Ohio) is ranked No. 9 at 184 pounds, Henrich is No. 15 at 174 and Ross Gitomer (Jr., Flemington, N.J.) stands No. 17 at 125.
The Cavaliers’ first opponent, Wisconsin, features four ranked wrestlers, including returning All-Americans Dallas Herbst at 197 and Kyle Massey at heavyweight. Massey currently is No. 3 nationally, while Herbst ranks No. 5. The Badgers also have ranked wrestlers at 141 (Zach Tanelli No. 13) and 149 (Kyle Ruschell No. 11). The Badgers are competing in their first matches of this season after taking 17th at NCAAs last year.
In the second match, Virginia faces an Illinois team that boasts a lineup of five NCAA qualifiers, all of whom are currently ranked. At 133, the Fighting Illini will start junior All-American and fourth-ranked Jimmy Kennedy, who placed fourth at NCAAs a year ago. Troy Tirapelle (No. 14 141), Roger Smith-Bergsrud (No. 13 165), Patrick Bond (No. 8 197) and John Wise (No. 6 285) also are ranked this week. The duals mark the season opener for the Illini, which finished 14th at the 2008 NCAA Championships.
In the final bout of the day, Virginia faces Michigan State. At 133, the Spartans boast reigning All-American Franklin Gomez, who went 33-2 last year and finished third at the NCAA Championships. He currently is ranked third nationally, while Rex Kendle is ranked No. 14 at 165 pounds. MSU has competed in two open tournaments thus far and is coming off a 28th-place finish at NCAAs a year ago.
The Cavaliers competed in the ACC/Big Ten Clash last year as well and scored wins over Purdue (16-15) and Michigan State (29-10). Those wins marked Virginia’s first ever against teams from the Big Ten. UVa has faced Illinois only once and dropped a 34-3 decision in 1997. The Cavaliers battled Wisconsin for the first time in program history in 2007, with the Badgers winning, 30-7.
UVa’s tough early schedule continues next weekend at the Sprawl and Brawl in Binghamton, N.Y. The Cavaliers face No. 7 Penn State at 9:45 a.m. and AIC at 1:15 p.m.
ACC/Big Ten Clash Schedule
North Carolina vs. Michigan State
NC State vs. IllinoisVirginia
North Carolina vs. Wisconsin
NC State vs. Michigan StateVirginia
vs. Illinois4 p.m.
North Carolina vs. Illinois
NC State vs. WisconsinVirginia
vs. Michigan State