Wrestling With The Unexpected

Coaching never ends. It's not one of those jobs where 5:00 comes, the whistle blows, and you head for home. If you're a coach of a varsity sport at a major university, that sport gets under your skin, into the air you breathe, and wraps itself around your brain in the most unexpected ways.

You ponder strategy for improving an athlete's technique while gulping down a hasty breakfast. You start reading the morning newspaper, but your mind soon wanders to a referee's bad call that cost you last night's game.

Then, amazingly, in the heat of mid-season, you find yourself with a rare evening off. So what do you do? Go check out the action in your sport at the local high school. If you can't be on the sidelines, you want nothing more than to watch someone else coach, watch how he handles his charges, consider whether this youngster or that might develop enough in the next year or two to offer her a scholarship or ask him to walk on.

At University High School on a cold, clear evening, WVU wrestling coaches Craig Turnbull and Zeke Jones took in a meet among the grapplers of University, South Harrison, and Preston High Schools.

"It's Senior Night, and this is the last home meet for some of my son's good buddies," a relaxed and jovial Turnbull explained.

Kyle Turnbull, the son in question, won a state championship for University High last year, and is now wrestling for his father at WVU.

"When Kyle had to have his appendix out early in the season, it made the decision to redshirt him this year a very easy one. The surgery took him out of practice for 3 weeks, and then it took him another 3 weeks to get back in shape. He can use the year to concentrate on academics and adjust to college life."

The proud father couldn't resist noting that Kyle turned in a 3.6 GPA his first semester in college. "As a parent and a coach, nothing could please me more."

On a night when it's possible to enjoy wrestling for its own sake, with nothing at stake and not an ounce of tension in his countenance, the four-time Eastern Wrestling League Coach of the Year could afford a few moments of reflection in the midst of a campaign that's had more than its share of ups and downs already.

The Mountaineers have lost two of their top wrestlers to misfortune, both of whom were expected to place nationally. Brent "Moose" Miller is academically ineligible for the second season in a row, and 2003 All-American Brandon Lauer suffered his third major shoulder injury during practice this week.

"Brandon's situation tugs on the heart strings," his coach sadly reported. "This is more than one person should have to deal with, more than you want to see any young man have to cope with. He's facing the decision about whether to have a third surgery. He's already been approved by the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility, but you have to wonder whether he can go through this yet again."

Turnbull has decided to break the redshirt of freshman Vince Gioiella to step into Lauer's shoes in the 141 pound weight class. A native of Solon, Ohio, Gioiella will see his first varsity action this weekend.

Jeff Courtney, a former two-time WV state champion for Fairmont Senior High, initially moved up to the heavyweight class to replace Moose Miller, but within a short time withdrew from the team, leaving WVU without anyone to wrestle in that category. Football player Matt Holsopple has stepped in to fill the void.

"He's a great kid," Turnbull said. "He came in as we asked, and after just a day and a half of practice won his first match." Courtney has transferred to Northern Michigan University.

Turnbull mused aloud about his team's prospects, given these difficult and unexpected adjustments.

"To lose two potential All-Americans [in Lauer and Miller] is a difficult challenge for this program. Can we make up losing two wrestlers of that quality? We'll see."

On the match-up this Saturday, January 29 at 1:00 p.m., Turnbull asserted that "Hofstra is the best team coming into the Coliseum this year. They're in the Top 10, and every weight class will be a challenging match." Hofstra boasts the nation's top-ranked grappler at 197 pounds, but of course, WVU has its own Number One, at 184, in two-time national champion Greg Jones.

WVU is not without top competitors in other weight classes as well. Turnbull was especially pleased by true sophomore Zac Fryling's upset of Illinois' 5th ranked wrestler at 165 at the NWCA National Duals Meet in Cleveland last weekend.

Turnbull, the winningest coach in Mountaineer wrestling history and mentor to no fewer than 22 Mountaineers who have stood at the pinnacle of their sport as NCAA All-Americans, enjoyed an evening's respite, but when tomorrow morning breaks, it's back to work again. You can't help but realize the wily veteran will find a way to get it done, no matter the bumps and bruises along the way.

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