Mountaineer Wrestlers Open Season With Tough Trip

The 10th ranked West Virginia University wrestling team opens its dual meet season today by ascending straight to the highest level of competition: the 3rd ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Nebraska returns three 2004 All-Americans from a 5th place finish at last year's NCAA championships: Matt Murray at 141 pounds, Travis Shufelt at 159, and Jacob Klein at 165. But the Mountaineers are not going to be easy prey for the traditional wrestling powerhouse from the Midwest. WVU's two-time national champion, Greg Jones (184), is widely regarded as the top wrestler in the nation in his weight class.

Jones is not the only bullet in the Mountaineer rifle. Brandon Lauer, 2003 All-American, returns to competition at 141 this year after sitting out last season with a shoulder injury. Six others who wear the blue and gold have made at least one NCAA tournament appearance. Seth Lisa (133), Mike Torriero (149), Matt Lebe (157), and Zac Fryling (165) all carry #2 pre-season rankings in the Eastern Wrestling League (EWL), WVU's home Conference, and Jared Villers (197) and Ryan Wilman (174) enter competition with #3 and #4 Conference rankings respectively. Brent "Moose" Miller, who has twice qualified for the NCAAs, brings experience and determination to the heavyweight class. In the lightest class, 125 pounds, junior Nathan Kendjorsky will battle Shawn Cordell and reigning West Virginia AAA high school champion Kyle Turnbull, a true freshman, for the starting slot.

The trip to Nebraska is the beginning of a grueling campaign for the Mountaineers, who will host only four home meets this season.

"The schedule is terrible," admits head coach Craig Turnbull. "This would have been a good year to have a lot of home meets. We are a Top 10 team, and this will be Greg Jones's last year. Four meets will not be enough opportunity for fans to discover what could be a great team."

WVU's scheduling situation is primarily due to NCAA rules, which permit only 16 wrestling dates per team. Generally, the Mountaineers – and most other university teams – participate in five tournaments, which allows for 11 dual meets. Six of those 11 must be against the other teams in the EWL. A seventh, WVU's fourth straight invitation to the National Duals, is high recognition for the program as well as a great opportunity for the team to compete against top wrestlers from around the country, the very folks they will expect to see at the NCAA championships in March. That leaves Turnbull's team with four dates to fill.

Unfortunately, the powerhouse teams he'd like to contract are in larger conferences, which means they have fewer open dates available for out of conference opponents such as WVU. "If you wrestle in the Big Ten or Big Twelve," Turnbull points out, "you probably only have one open date outside your conference. Nebraska will come here to WVU next year, and we have been able to get home dates with Penn State and Iowa State in past years, but it's hard to get home-and-home series with teams that have so few available dates."

Turnbull would like to see the NCAA expand the season from 16 meets to 18. "This is a rule change that would help us. Someone like Nebraska or Iowa State could make an eastern swing, and wrestle us, Penn State, and another school. A little more scheduling flexibility would make a big difference."

WVU had expected to have six home meets this year, with Iowa State and Virginia Tech planning to come to Morgantown. Unfortunately, the Iowa State match fell through due to scheduling issues, and Virginia Tech, of course, has decamped for the ACC, leaving the Mountaineers high and dry in yet another venue.

"You just do what you need to do," the wily veteran Turnbull explains. "We would enjoy more time with our home crowds, who provide adrenaline and tremendous support. It would be nice to sleep in our own beds and go through our regular routines before every competition. But at this level, with the poise and experience of this team, it shouldn't matter that much. I'm just disappointed for our fans."

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