Changing of the Guard

It's a new era in West Virginia University Wrestling. Three-time national champion Greg Jones is on the sidelines as an assistant coach. The dashing, dapper Zeke Jones, so long a fixture on the Mountaineer bench, is now head coach at Penn. A career ends, another career begins.

The one constant is Craig Turnbull, in the early stages of his 28th season as head coach of the Mountaineer grapplers, and, as always, Turnbull tested his new lineup with a tough opponent to open the season.

The #24 Mountaineers, boasting a number of fresh faces, lost to the #12 Missouri Tigers at the Coliseum tonight, 29-16, getting the dual meet season off to an exciting if difficult start. Seven of Missouri's 10 starters came into the contest ranked in the top 25 in the nation.

"In a couple of places we were outmanned," Turnbull admitted. "Missouri is very good. We drove up to watch them last night in Pittsburgh, and Pitt didn't score an offensive point against Missouri until the 184 weight class. We're a young team, and the seasoning will be good for us."

The big story of the night was true freshman Brandon Rader of Parkersburg, currently ranked 17th in the nation at 141 pounds. Rader scored a quick 5 points in the first 30 seconds of his match with #19 Chris McCormick, before pinning the more experienced McCormick with 1:49 remaining in the first period, gaining WVU's first points of the evening. A star is born.

"I just wrestled the way I always wrestle," the self-effacing Rader smiled. "I wrestled the Missouri guy at the Las Vegas meet, and I beat him there, 15-0. I just tried to come out and get a pin and I did."

His coach was more than pleased with the evening's effort. "Brandon is going to be very, very good," Turnbull beamed. "He's very consistent. Very few freshmen place in Las Vegas [at the Las Vegas Invitational] and Brandon finished 3rd there. He pinned one of Missouri's better wrestlers tonight. He's going to be very special."

It seemed as though most of the 662 in attendance were there to support Rader. "I did have a good cheering section," he grinned. "All of my family and lots of people from Parkersburg were here tonight. I really appreciated it."

Rader was not the only freshman phenom unveiled this evening. David Jauregui (pronounced HAR egg ee) at 149 pounced on Missouri's Josh Wagner, keeping the crowd alive and in the meet. Jauregui's flexibility is impressive; he uses it as a lever to keep himself competitive in unexpected ways. He's got that Greg Jones-like long, lean musculature that makes him hard to contain. Jauregui evened up the score at 3-3 with an impressive takedown with 28 seconds remaining in the 2nd period, then rode out most of the 3rd period with a 4-3 victory to bring the Mountaineers within a point, at 9-10.

West Virginia's returning All-American, 5th-ranked Matt Lebe, more aggressive and a little leaner than last year, faced Mike Chandler at 157. Lebe demonstrated good vision; he was always aware of the mat boundaries and used them skillfully to keep himself out of trouble early. A 5-1 victory put the Mountaineers ahead, 12-10, and Uncle Mo sat for a while in the blue corner, at least until the heart of Missouri's lineup took the mat. "It's nice to be back in front of the home crowd," Lebe stated. "I had never seen [Chandler] before, but he came out and tried to set a strong pace. I wanted to dictate the pace, and I did."

Missouri's #4 Matt Pell took on WVU's Eric Mullen at 165. The wiry, determined Pell deserves his ranking. We should expect to see him at nationals in the spring; he firmly asserted himself from start to finish. Watching some of the shapes Mullen's poor knees got twisted into made your intrepid reporter's stomach hurt. Mizzou went back on top with a 10-1 major decision.

WVU's Kurt Brenner did not lie down and play dead for #1 Ben Askren. He quickly answered Askren's first two points with two of his own and continued to hold the Tiger better than expected. Askren, whose unruly red curls remind of Mountaineer linebacker Marc Magro, let his frustration show when Brenner did not cave, and took a real cheap shot at Brenner out of bounds, punctuated with a smirky sneer, drawing the crowd's outspoken displeasure. Askren is an arrogant you-know-what, but he backed it up with a pin, taking Missouri's lead to 20-12 with 3 weight classes remaining.

Chance Litton, who has some big shoes to fill for West Virginia in Greg Jones's old slot at 184, suffered a quick take down by #17 Raymond Jordan and never recovered. Jordan operated with a surgeon's precision, systematically dismantling the Parkersburg native's defenses, and putting the meet out of reach with Missouri's 3rd pin of the match, with 1:03 remaining in the 3rd period.

At 197, West Virginia sent junior Jared Villers out to meet Joey Garrity. The returning starter scored a quick two-point takedown in the first seconds of the match, then deliberately, evenly, steadily gained strength as he continued. Villers has a deceptive calm about him; his loping gait belies an impressive determination. His 11-3 major decision brought the score to 16-26.

In the heavyweight division, Dustin Rogers saw his first action of the season, taking on Missouri's Sean Connole. Rogers transferred to WVU from Southwestern Oregon Community College where he won the 2005 junior college national championship heavyweight title. He's going to be a solid addition to the Mountaineer squad, although he fell in a 7-6 decision at the last second with both teams on their feet and shouting. "Our heavyweight is just not quite ready yet," Turnbull said. "He was out during the first part of the season, and his gas tank is not where it should be yet, but he'll get better."

At 125, sophomore Scott Stewart took on 16th-ranked Austin DeVoe. Stewart made a valiant effort, but was just overwhelmed by the more experienced DeVoe, who pinned him with 22 seconds remaining in the second period. Kyle Turnbull was expected to carry the blue and gold in this weight class, but is out with an injury.

Seth Lisa, West Virginia's 16th ranked returning NCAA qualifier at 133, lost to #15 Tyler McCormick. McCormick took a 3-0 lead early in the second period, extending that to an 8-0 major decision.

"One thirty-three was important for momentum," Turnbull said. "We still had opportunities at that point. I thought 133 could go either way. We had no wiggle room in this meet. We won the middle three classes, split with Missouri 5-5, and that's good, but it was too hard to keep them out of the bonus points."

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