New Faces, New Challenges

They're young, they're talented, they've got a lot of desire and good work habits, but "this team needs experience," asserts WVU head wrestling coach Craig Turnbull. "I really like the people in the program, but these guys will need some development, and they will need help not getting frustrated if things go up and down."

WVU could start as many as five freshmen wrestlers this year, with only two returning seniors and one junior. "We've had two back-to-back top ten recruiting years," Turnbull offered, "and at some point we're going to be very good. The only question in my mind is when: this season? By the end of this season? Next year? We will keep the bar of expectations high, but I also recognize that freshmen performances will fluctuate more than the performances of more experienced wrestlers. They'll do some good things and then at times we'll be pushing someone. "

Those two returning seniors will provide important leadership and fine examples for the crop of youngsters. Matt Lebe is a legitimate contender for a national championship at 157 pounds. He was an All-American last year, and defeated the top-ranked wrestler in his weight class at the NCAA tournament. WVU's other returning senior is Seth Lisa at 133. "Seth was knocking on the door of a national championship last year," Turnbull explained. "He lost in overtime by one point at nationals, to the second-ranked wrestler in the nation. I believe he can step up this year and be where he wants to be."

Zac Fryling, the scrappy and determined starter at 165 for the past two seasons, will redshirt this year, and when he returns to competition will wrestle his junior and senior terms at 157, after Matt Lebe graduates.

Kyle Turnbull, the redshirt freshman out of University High School in Morgantown WV, will start for WVU at 125. "Kyle made the most of his redshirt year," his coach – and proud father – reported. "He had a good year academically. He made a 4.0 in the spring, even getting an A- in calculus. Dad and Coach both feel pretty good about that."

Jared Villers, a junior from Akron, Ohio, returns at 197. With a year's experience under his belt, he is ready to compete on a national level.

In other weight classes, there is still discernment to complete. At 141, competition continues between true freshman Brandon Rader of Parkersburg and Vince Gioiella, a sophomore from Solon, Ohio. Gioiella was pressed into service last year due to injuries, so he holds the advantage in experience, but Rader "has looked very good," Turnbull said. "He is capable of wrestling at this level right away."

David Harden and Larry Hall, both true freshmen, are in the mix at 149. At 174, the competition is between sophomore Kurt Brenner, a three-time Pennsylvania state champion who twice reached the national high school finals, and Chance Litton, a true freshman from Parkersburg, W. Va. "We'll have to think hard about what to do in this weight class," the head coach stated. "We might try to move one of them to 184, which is currently uncontested."

Ah, yes, the 184 pound weight class, where Greg Jones reigned supreme for three years. "Nobody wanted to wrestle behind Greg," Turnbull laughed. "Why would they? Mike Wojcik is our other wrestler at 184, but, of course, he has no varsity experience. This weight class is very open."

Three vie for the startling slot in the heavyweight division, Matt Holsopple, a former member of the WVU football team who stepped in last year after Moose Miller became ineligible and Jeff Courtney left the team, will contend with Daniel Goulart, a sophomore from Oakland, Md., and Dustin Rogers, a junior college national champion who joined the program this year. Although Rogers is ready to compete at a national level, he is recovering from a minor neck injury, which will slow his development somewhat.

Turnbull reports a high level of comfort with this team, but notes that "It's so different in an individual sport than it is in a team sport. In football or basketball, you can make some decisions that ease a young player's transition: don't start them, put them in for a few minutes, take them out, adjust to various situations. But in an individual sport, they're out there all by themselves. There are no substitutions. They have to take whatever they get and learn from it."

Not only is Turnbull breaking in a host of young wrestlers, but he is also breaking in a new assistant coach, three-time national champion Greg Jones.

"Greg had always expressed his desire to coach, and, in particular, to coach at West Virginia," Turnbull said, but Jones never expected that his coaching career would begin until after the career he still plans in international wrestling had ended. "Sometimes, opportunity doesn't come at the time you would like it," Turnbull reflected. "But Greg had the opportunity to get a job doing what he wants to do and where he wants to do it. It's been an easy transition. The team and everyone associated with the program are very comfortable and very happy. Greg carries such enormous respect from the team that the transition from peer to coach wasn't so difficult."

Jones concurred. "No one had to show me around the place," he smiled.

Wrestling season opens Saturday, November 12 at 10:00 a.m. with the annual WVU Classic. The Shell Building will host anywhere from 200 to 300 wrestlers, including every single member of WVU's team ,providing a golden opportunity for individual development and assessment.

Most of this weekend's participants will come as individuals or in small groups, rather than as a team. "We may get four from Penn State, or eight from Lock Haven," Turnbull said. "We find out as they fax in their registration forms. The WVU Open is such a big, chaotic event. Every year I say no more and then I forget how much work it was and do it again," he laughed. "The value in the event is that it brings people to us. Our very young team can get a little seasoning and a little feedback. And then we get to do it again at the Navy Classic on November 19 before the season begins in earnest."

There are challenges this season, Turnbull admits, but he doesn't seem too worried. "We're good," he smiled. "We're good."

Rifle Reports

  • The departure of long-time assistant coach Zeke Jones will not affect the Sunkist Olympic program just getting underway in Morgantown.

    "Zeke was never going to coach that program," his former boss stated. "He, with his name recognition at the international level, was the hook to get people interested in putting this together, but we always intended that one of the seven slots available in the program would be for a player-coach or coach who could manage workouts and do the planning. Our facilities are still open to athletes to train and we can still take four more people."

  • WVU will break ground next week on the new $1.2 million wrestling facility to be located between the Coliseum and the Natatorium on WVU's Evansdale Campus. "We expected to break ground in July," Turnbull reported, "but it's just like building a house. There are always unanticipated roadblocks, but pre-construction work is now underway."

  • New assistant coach Greg Jones commented slyly on coaching his younger brother, Donnie: "It's interesting. He's still my kid brother. Anyone who's had a kid brother knows what I mean."

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