Season Recap 2015
May 4, 2015
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – On Saturday, the West Virginia University wrestling team recapped a history-making season – the first of the Sammie Henson era – with a banquet honoring the student-athletes.
And what a season it was. From record-breaking crowds at the WVU Coliseum, a newfound rivalry with Arizona State, defeating an old rival in Pitt and a magical NCAA tournament run that saw an almost-redshirt freshman cap the season as the national runner-up.
“I’m proud of our team’s overall success this year,” said Henson, who recently earned Amateur Wrestling News’ Rookie Coach of the Year award. “We had some low points, which our men pushed through and gained strength from. We look to build upon this success with continued hard work. The Mountaineer wrestling family thanks everyone for their support this season.”
The Sammie Henson era opened on November 2 in East Lansing, Michigan, when the Mountaineers competed in the Michigan State Open. Bubba Scheffel and Michael Morales finished fifth and sixth, respectively, at the tournament to lead the squad. Fans also got a glimpse of the future, as Jake S. Smith, who sat out the season due to transfer rules and wrestled unattached, won the title at 141 pounds, while Moisey took third competing as a redshirt freshman at 125 pounds.
The next weekend would change the course of the season, and the course of history, for West Virginia wrestling. Though the starters had the weekend off, a group of reserves and redshirts made their way to Blacksburg, Virginia, to compete in Virginia Tech’s Hokie Open. Wearing his high school singlet Moisey wrestled to a fourth-place finish, medically forfeiting the third-place match against Virgnia’s Nick Hermann.
But something stood out for Henson. In the semifinal match, Moisey lost a 3-1 decision to Virginia Tech’s Joey Dance. A sophomore for the Hokies, Dance was a retuning All-American who took fourth at NCAAs the previous season and was ranked No. 4 in the nation at 125… and an injured Moisey had lost to him by a mere two points. Maybe the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, native was ready to be a true freshman starter rather than a redshirt.
Four days later, Mountaineer fans got their first up close look at Henson and company as West Virginia opened its home slate by welcoming former assistant coach Zeke Jones and his Arizona State Sun Devils to the WVU Coliseum for a Thursday evening contest. Starting at 149, ASU took the first five bouts to lead 15-0. However the tides began to turn when Charleston native Jake A. Smith stepped on to the mat at 197 pounds. After transferring from Cleveland State, Smith was donning the singlet he grew up rooting for, and proceeded to win a 6-1 decision to put WVU on the board. Heavyweight A.J. Vizcarrondo earned a tiebreaker to make at 15-6 in favor of the Sun Devils. Moisey took the mat next – his first time officially as a Mountaineer – and dominated in a 12-2 major decision to cut the WVU deficit to five. ASU took the next bout before Michael Morales won in sudden victory, but it wasn’t enough as the Mountaineers dropped the contest 19-13.
Despite the loss, there was chatter amongst the WVU faithful of a clear rejuvenation in the program. More than 1,200 fans had shown up for the start of the Henson era, marking one of the biggest crowds the Mountaineer wrestling program had seen in years.
The squad showed more improvement at the Navy Classic on November 22, improving from a ninth-place finish in 2013 to take fifth place overall. Morales used a 5-0 run to take top honors at 141 pounds, while Moisey went 4-1 to take third at 125.
Morales, who spent portions of the season in the top-25 at 141 pounds, followed up his stellar weekend with an upset victory of No. 9 Mark Grey of Cornell at the Northeast Duals on November 29. Smith also had an impressive bout, taking a decision from No. 17 Jace Bennett of Cornell at 197 pounds. Despite going 0-3 against No. 3 Cornell, Rutgers and a heartbreaking 18-17 loss to Northern Illinois, the Mountaineers made individual strides.
The improvements continued at the 33rd Annual Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational in early December, with WVU posting its best showing since 2007 with a 16th-place finish. A trio of Mountaineers reached the podium for the first time since 2006, with a number of upsets along the way. Morales defeated No. 10 Todd Preston of Harvard and No. 8 Joe Spisak of Virginia on his way to a sixth-place finish, while Moisey and Smith each grabbed eighth-place finishes at their respective weights. Bubba Scheffel also pulled an upset, topping No. 6 Kenny Courts of Ohio State at 184 pounds.
Later that month, Henson earned his first win as head coach with a 23-12 defeat of Lock Haven on December 19. Despite a hiatus for Christmas, the Mountaineers rolled to two more victories with a shutout win of Grand Canyon, 42-0, on January 4 and a payback win at Arizona State, 22-12, on January 5. The sweet revenge for the Mountaineers included a pin by Moisey at 125 and a major decision at 174 by Parker VonEgidy.
West Virginia returned to the road soon after and made it six of seven with a 3-1 mark at the Virginia Duals in Hampton, Virginia, on January 9 and 10. Moisey pinned then-No. 10 Sean Boyle to kick off a dual with the Chattanooga Mocs, while Ross Renzi added another fall at 165 as WVU took a 21-19 win from the Mocs. The team dropped a 21-16 match to No. 14 Edinboro, despite a major decision by Cory Stainbrook, but bounced back with a 19-15 win over No. 25 Bucknell. The following morning, the Mountaineers took on Arizona State for the second time in a week. Much to the chagrin of Coach Jones, the Mountaineers started the match off with back-to-back pins and took a 21-10 win for a 2-1 series record against the Sun Devils on the season.
The win over Bucknell put the Mountaineers into the national rankings, as they claimed the 23rd spot in the NCAA rankings and the 25th spot according to InterMat.
However, West Virginia struggled in the first weekend of Big 12 competition, dropping a pair of duals. Smith won a 3-1 decision at 197 against Oklahoma on January 16, but the Mountaineers fell 35-3 to the No. 8 Cowboys. Two days later, Morales and Moisey both won in sudden victory, and Smith added another league victory, but WVU came up short against Oklahoma, falling 25-13.
The Mountaineers traveled to Clarion on February 6, picking up a 26-9 win over the Golden Eagles. Morales earned a pin at 141, while Roman Perryman scored a 4-2 decision as he debuted at 149 pounds. Twenty-four hours later, West Virginia returned to the WVU Coliseum for the first time since November when they hosted Big 12 foe No. 8 Iowa State. Moisey earned a major decision and Vizcarrondo picked up a Big 12 win as the Mountaineers fell to the Cyclones, 27-7. However, not as was lost in the defeat as more than 1,200 fans supported WVU’s Cradles for Cancer effort. Both coaching staffs and wrestlers donned pick shirts and socks and cancer survivors, including Coach Henson’s wife Stephanie, were honored during a break in the match as the Mountaineers helped raise awareness in support of the cause.
On February 15, West Virginia celebrated the careers of six seniors prior to the match against Ohio. Mickey Bennett, Greg Thurston, Brutus Scheffel, John Pellegrino, Morales and Perryman were honored before WVU overcame a 13-5 deficit to earn its first home win of the season. Starting at 141, the Mountaineers dropped four of the first five bouts before wins by Scheffel, Moisey and Vizcarrondo made it a one-point dual. An 8-0 major decision by Stainbrook at 133 would win it for the Mountaineers.
The Mountaineers won a trio of bouts but dropped their home finale, 25-9, to No. 14 Edinboro on February 20. However the ended the regular season on a high note. On February 22, the squad traveled to rival No. 18 Pitt. Led by Smith’s pin at 197 and a major decision by Moisey at 125, the Mountaineers downed the Panthers 24-14 to take the Backyard Brawl for the first time since 2007.
West Virginia continued making history on March 7 at the Big 12 Championship in Ames, Iowa. In addition to a program-record 35 points, the team placed a school-best four wrestlers into the finals. Vizcarrondo had an upset pin of No. 13 seed Ross Larson of Oklahoma to become WVU’s first-ever two-time Big 12 finalist, finishing as the runner-up at heavyweight. Moisey, Perryman and Smith also claimed runner-up spots, while Bubba Scheffel took home third place.
Moisey, Morales, Scheffel and Smith earned at-large bids to the 2015 NCAA Championships in St. Louis, where Henson looked to continue his streak of producing All-Americans. The No. 16 seed, Morales went 2-2, winning his first bout in an 8-4 decision over Michigan’s George Fisher before falling to No. 1 Logan Steiber (OSU) in the second round. He bounced back with a first-period pin of North Western’s Jameson Oster, but finished his run with a loss to Boise State’s Geo Martinez. Smith dropped a first-round match to No.15 seed Aaron Studebaker of Nebraska, but won back-to-back bouts in wrestlebacks before suffering a 3-1 overtime setback to Penn’s Canaan Bethea. Scheffel faced a tough draw, taking on No. 2 seed Max Thomusseit (L, 14-4 MD) and Princeton’s Brett Harner (L, 7-1 Dec.)
Almost a redshirt, Moisey became the Cinderella story of the tournament. The unseeded true freshman downed No. 15 seed Chasen Tolbert of Utah Valley in a major decision, 14-6, before upsetting No. 2 seed Nahshon Garrett of Cornell in a 5-2 decision. Though it looked like his defeat of Garrett would be one of the upsets of the tournament, Moisey was nowhere near done. After going 0-2 against Oklahoma State’s Eddie Klimara during the regular season, he toppled the No. 7, 5-2, to become WVU’s first All-American since 2007.
But wait… there’s more. The match of the tournament came in the semifinals when Moisey faced No. 6 seed Thomas Gilman of Iowa. Already in the history books, Moisey was looking for more. After an early takedown of Gilman, he cradled the Hawkeye grappler then sent his back to the mat for the pin in 52 seconds, sending the Scottrade Center crowd to its feet. Moisey became the first unseeded wrestler since 2003 the make an NCAA championship final, and the first Mountaineer to do so since Greg Jones won a national championship in 2005.
Though the run may have ended in the finals with 9-5 loss to No. 4 seed Nathan Tomasello of Ohio State, it will not be forgotten. Henson, Moisey and the Mountaineers were the talk of St. Louis and, with the third-best recruiting class in the nation and former NCAA qualifier Dylan Cottrell joining the roster, could be the talk of the town in years to come.
Unsurprisingly, Moisey claimed a trio of awards in Most Falls, Freshman of the Year and Most Outstanding Wrestler. Wrestlers were honored for their perseverance on the mat, as Perryman claimed Eat to Defeat for dropping a weight class mid-season and Smith won Most Improved. Others were honored for off-the-mat efforts, as Tim Wheeling took home Outstanding Scholar Scrambler and Chris Nelson was honored with the Coaches Award. The six Mountaineer seniors bid farewell to their teammates with speeches and the team celebrated a successful season with the future looking bright ahead.
Superstar Award (Social Media Moment) – Brutus Scheffel
Eat to Defeat (Nutrition) – Roman Perryman
Iron Warrior Award (Athletic Training) – Tony DeAngelo
Outstanding Scholar Scrambler (Academics) – Tim Wheeling
Iron Mountaineer Award (Strength & Conditioning) – Brutus Scheffel
Most Falls – Zeke Moisey
Coaches Award – Chris Nelson
Freshman of the Year – Zeke Moisey
Most Improved – Jake A. Smith
Most Outstanding Wrestler – Zeke Moisey
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