WVU Wrestling Splits Squad This Weekend

By Ira Green
WVU Sports Information Office

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (November 20, 2009) – The West Virginia University wrestling team will have a split squad this weekend, as half the team will travel to Annapolis, Md., for the Navy Classic on Saturday, Nov. 21. The dual-meet starters will open the season on Sunday, Nov. 22, in Vestal, N.Y., at the annual “Sprawl & Brawl” dual meets at Binghamton University.

The Navy Classic, an all-day event, is in its 32nd year of existence and features teams such as Bloomsburg, Bucknell and Virginia Tech. Last year, Matt Weston, now a redshirt sophomore, took fourth place at 184 pounds, while classmate Kyle Eason won two matches at 157 pounds.

"We have been attending the Navy Classic for a number of years,” coach Craig Turnbull says. “In recent history, we changed our plan a little bit. We use the Navy Classic to get as many people in our program involved as we can. It's really turned out to be a good decision. We take our front line to Binghamton, and the rest of the wrestlers to Navy. It brings a lot of excitement back to the room. It helps a lot of those guys with their focus and goal-setting."

WVU’s first dual meet of the year comes against Wyoming on Sunday at 11:30 a.m., followed by a contest against No. 23-ranked Illinois at 1:15 p.m.

The Mountaineers competed last week at the Washington & Jefferson College Open, with five wrestlers winning titles at their respective titles. Redshirt senior Donnie Jones highlighted the tournament by earning most outstanding wrestler honors after going 4-0 en route to the 165-pound title. Sophomores Colin Johnston (133) and Matt Ryan (184), freshman Cameron Gallaher (197) and junior Brandon Williamson (HWT) were the other Mountaineers to win their weight class.

WVU registered an 8-4-2 overall mark in 2008-09, including a 4-0-2 record in Eastern Wrestling League action. The team returns five of its starters from a season ago, including two NCAA qualifiers, Jones, who is ranked No. 13 nationally, and redshirt sophomore Ryan Goodman (157).

"The Sprawl and Brawl gives us a couple of good teams that we generally don't see throughout the year,” Turnbull adds. “It's really caught on. They have a real nice diversity of teams that travel in for this event now. This year, we get to compete against two very good teams. Wyoming is really a fast-developing team that has a lot of excitement in its program. We'll have a very good challenge in our first match. Illinois we stumbled a bit last year when we faced them in the Coliseum. They consistently wrestle in that Top 10, Top 15 level. To get the variety of Big Ten teams on our schedule is very important for a preparation standpoint.”

Wyoming, the Mountaineers’ first test, is 1-0 this season with a 24-13 home victory against Northwest College on Nov. 13. The Cowboys won six weight classes, including three bonus decision victories. A day later, five Wyoming wrestlers won titles at the Cowboy Open.

The Cowboys feature two nationally ranked wrestlers – Michael Martinez, ranked No. 10 at 125 pounds, and Joe LeBlanc, ranked No. 6 at 184 pounds. Both won their matches in the team’s lone dual meet and also captured titles at their respective weight classes at the open tournament.

The Cowboys, under the guidance of second-year coach Mark Branch, went 15-3 last season, including a 5-0 mark in the Western Wrestling Conference. Behind LeBlanc’s fifth-place finish at the 2009 NCAA Championships, the team tied for 32nd.

WVU’s second opponent of the day, Illinois, is currently 0-1 this season following a close 18-16 loss to then-No. 10-ranked Missouri on Nov. 12. The two teams split the bouts, with Illinois and Missouri each winning five weight classes. Illinois 174-pounder Jordan Blanton and 141-pounder Ryan Prater each won their respective matches.

Before the dual meet season, Illinois competed at the Lindenwood Open on Oct. 30 and had four wrestlers capture titles.

The Fighting Illini carry four ranked wrestlers – Prater, who is No. 17 at 141 pounds, Blanton, who is No. 7 at 174 pounds, John Dergo, who is No. 8 at 184 pounds, and Patrick Bond, who is No. 18 at 197 pounds.

Illinois, which is under first-year coach Jim Heffernan, went 13-2 last season, including a 6-2 mark in the Big Ten. The Fighting Illini placed eighth at last year’s NCAA Championships and return one of its three All-Americans – Jimmy Kennedy, who earned fifth at 133 pounds.

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