It was Senior Night at the WVU Coliseum, and, in honor of their fearless leader and all-around role model Greg Jones in the last home meet of a storied career, the Mountaineers put on quite a show. It was "Win one for the Gipper" night in Morgantown. The whole team seemed to rise to the occasion.
As might be expected, ever-pessimistic Mountaineer fans have been wringing their hands about the effect of Jones's graduation from the program. Well, I have seen the future, sports fans, and it looks fine, in the capable hands of Zac Fryling, Jared Villers, Seth Lisa, and Matt Lebe, not to mention the talented underclassmen who gained valuable experience when pressed into service by the numerous injuries suffered by their more experienced teammates. We will miss Jones, no doubt, but head coach Craig Turnbull has plenty to work with next year.
You read it here first, last night: Zac Fryling is going to be a monster before his time with us is done. The 165-pound sophomore absolutely dominated Viking David Gilkey. Fryling's low center of gravity became a powerful weapon, allowing him to attack his much taller opponent from below, to disrupt his balance and keep him crashing to the floor. Only 29 seconds into the match, it became clear that Gilkey was in for a long night. Before he could blink, Fryling had 4 quick points and the referee paused for Gilkey to recover from a bout of dizziness. By the second round, Fryling had gone up 18-2 to gain a technical fall.
"If I had wrestled this well the whole match last night, I would have won," Fryling correctly asserted. "I was ready all seven minutes tonight. I am excited for the post-season and feel that I'm peaking at just the right time." Fryling made it to the NCAA tournament last year, as a freshman, and realizes that "This year, the second time, I'll be more confident. I know what to expect, and there will be no big surprises."
Not to be outdone, sophomore Jared Villers (197) put on a dazzling display, scoring a technical fall over CSU's Joe Phillips, 22-7 in 5:46. Villers was so much in command that he repeatedly let the dazed and confused Phillips up just far enough so that when he put him back down, another two points would result. Seventh-ranked Matt Lebe (157) got into the act, too, with a masterful defeat of Marcus Effner.
Freshman Shawn Cordell (125) looks better every match. He managed a sophisticated strategy in his 3-1 defeat of CSU's Joe Wornoff. The wiry Cordell kept Wornoff from scoring points by getting him out of bounds every time it looked like he might gain an escape point. It was a skillful use of mat boundaries.
The evening's star attraction, Greg Jones, didn't disappoint. A surprising number of paparazzi crowded the Coliseum floor, and a much bigger than usual crowd took their final opportunity to see WVU's first two-time national champion wrestle on his home floor. Tonight's victim, Ron Howard, deserves a medal for hanging in with the champ for three full rounds. But then Opie should know better than to expect an upset in his old buddy Don Knotts' hometown.
Inexperience and the fatigue that goes with back to back matches took their toll on WVU's younger wrestlers. Codie Gustines (133), Teddy Adams (149), Eric Mullen (174), and Matt Holsopple (HWT), all competed valiantly before falling to more experienced opponents.
125: Shawn Cordell (WVU) dec. Joe Wornoff (CSU) 3-1
133: David Armstrong (CSU) dec Codie Gustines (WVU) 7-3
141: Vince Gioiella (WVU) by default
149: Ryan Hurlery (CSU) major dec. Teddy Adams (WVU) 15-5
157: #7 Matt Lebe (WVU) dec. Marcus Effner (CSU) 7-4
165: Zac Fryling (WVU) tech. fall David Gilkey (CSU) 18-2
174: Matt Klinger (CSU) dec. Eric Mullen (WVU) 6-5
184: #1 Greg Jones (WVU) tech. fall Ron Howard (CSU) 17-2
194: Jared Villers (WVU) tech. fall Joe Phillips (CSU) 22-7
HWT: Joe Dennis (CSU) dec. Matt Holsopple (WVU) 9-3
Final Score: WVU 27 Cleveland State 13
* WVU Football star Jahmile Addae attended tonight's match as part of the WDTV news team covering the event. Addae is doing an internship with Channel 5 in Bridgeport as part of his academic program at WVU.
* Since tonight was Senior Night, it seems fitting to recognize WVU's four senior wrestlers. Sadly, only one of them competed; the rest were sidelined with injuries.
* Mike Torriero, the captain of the team, has already earned his degree in athletic coaching education and is taking courses toward a second degree in physical education. His career record at WVU is 40-26, including an upset victory over 5th-ranked Trent Paulson of Iowa State at last year's NCAA tournament. Torriero got bad news from the doctor today: his wrestling career is definitely over. Three herniated disks have led to some shrinkage in his spinal canal, leaving him at great risk for permanent, profound injury. "I just needed to know if I was pulled for a good reason, and this is certainly a good reason," Torriero sighed. Thank you, Mike, for the passion and integrity you have brought to this sport.
* Ryan Wilman earned four letters and competed in several weight classes for WVU. Highlights of his career include a 5th place at the highly prestigious Midlands Championships and a championship in the Navy Classic. He made the "Amateur Wrestling News" all-freshman team in 2001, and finishes with a 58-40 career record. Wilman will graduate in May 2005 with a BA in history.
* 2003 All-American Brandon Lauer has been one of the best pinners in school history, scoring 21 falls in 88 career matches, placing him sixth all time at WVU in career pins. Lauer was president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee at WVU and was chosen to attend a prestigious NCAA leadership conference. He has already completed a degree in health and physical education and is currently taking graduate courses in academic administration. Ranked as high as #5 at one point in his career, Lauer, too, has been sidelined by injuries. He faces his third major shoulder operation on March 3 and then eight months of rehabilitation, but hasn't yet decided whether to try to come back to wrestling.
* And, finally, we get to the one and only Greg Jones. What can be said about him that hasn't already been said a hundred times with emphasis? Let's look at the statistics: Jones's career record stands at 117-4 and counting. He hasn't lost a match in two years, since the NCAA tournament his sophomore year. He's 27-0 in EWL dual meets and holds a 43-match winning streak. He is a three-time EWL champion and a two-time national champion. He won the 2005 Hardman Award as the amateur athlete of the year for the State of West Virginia. He will graduate in May with a degree in sports psychology and then enter the U.S. Olympic Training program this summer. Oh, and he has a kid brother coming to wrestle at WVU next year, Donnie. "He's a smart kid," says Greg. "He knows he will have to establish himself."
Zac Fryling summed up what Greg Jones has meant to this team. "Last year, I wrestled as a true freshman, and Greg took me under his wing. To have a national champion who cares about a freshman and was willing to work with me, well, that just says it all. Greg is so good, but he still works so hard and is so humble."
Let's let the champ speak for himself: "I had a pretty good night," Jones suggested modestly. "I just want to say thank you to the fans. It's been great, truly a pleasure to be part of the Mountaineer family. The Mountaineer fans love their sports teams, and I have loved being a part of it all."
We love you, too, Greg. I think I speak for all citizens of the Mountaineer Nation when I say that. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to cover the last two years of your wrestling career at WVU. I have been a devoted fan and close observer of West Virginia University athletics for many years now, and I have seen some great athletes come and go, from Danny Buggs to Jeff Hostetler to Shari Retton to all three Bulgers to Grant Wiley. But I honestly believe that you may be the finest athlete ever to grace the Gold and Blue.
In a world of profound uncertainty and insecurity, it is a rare thing indeed to experience the stable, the reliable, even the invincible, and all those you have been. Your strength, courage, focus and desire are the stuff of legend.
But you have been something more than just a magnificent combination of talent, hard work, outstanding coaching, and big heart. You have shown us what we are capable of, as a sports team, as a University, and as a people, and I thank you for that. It is a precious gift to witness the fulfillment of promise, hope, and dream. You have meant more to this University and to the people of West Virginia than either you or we likely realize: you have modeled for us what it truly means to reach for a star and then grasp it in your hands. May we catch a dollop of your spirit and become the people we are capable of being.
And may all your remaining dreams come true. I look forward to the day, God willing, when I watch with hand on heart as an Olympic gold medal is placed around your neck. Godspeed, Mr. Jones. Don't ever forget your home here in the West Virginia hills.