In 1991, the WVU wrestling team practiced in a corner of Stansbury Hall, the old Field House, with too-hot radiators and mismatched windows that allowed snowflakes to blow onto the mats. In 2006, Turnbull is in the process of moving the top-20 program, which has produced a long line of All-Americans and league champions, into a beautiful new $1.2 million facility completely dedicated to the sport.
"The new facility is as nice as it could be," Turnbull beamed. "Most times in life , you build and then in retrospect think you should have done something different, but not this time. We have a facility that represents the quality of the program. This will make a big difference in every respect, including recruiting. The energy it's producing is wonderful, before and after practice. This new facility changes a lot of things, in ways both obvious and subtle, that are important."
"I'm moving slowly about moving my office, though," he chuckled. "This office [in the Coliseum] is all I've known. There's tradeoffs to the move. It's social here. You can walk down the hall and bump into someone. Over there, in the new facility, we may have to work all day."
Work all day, indeed. The veteran coach may joke, but there's no question that his 17-year career at the helm of the Mountaineers has involved an extraordinary amount of very productive work.
Not only is the team as a whole featured in the pre-season rankings, but several of Turnbull's charges are individually ranked, as well. "We have high goals, high standards, regardless of where we're ranked," he said, "and there's so much work to do that I'm not focused on that. It's good for publicity, but lots of things can change in a lot of directions."
Although WVU has a number of returning wrestlers, the team was very young last year, and isn't much older this year. There are no seniors and only two juniors, "so we're still a very young team," the coach pointed out. "Fortunately, we gained valuable experience with quite a few of the young people last year, so I feel we should begin a steady ascension toward that top 10, top 5 that we're capable of. When? This year? If not this year, we'll travel a long distance toward that and it will be next year and the following year. If all those things we're capable of aren't achieved this year, we'll have traveled a good distance closer to them. No growth is ever linear. You take a few steps forward, a couple back, then forward again. This is a good group, hard working, but you have to be lucky, with no serious injuries."
Before practice even started, the team suffered a major injury, to sophomore Donnie Jones, the youngest of WVU's famous wrestling Jones brothers. His older brothers, Vertus and Greg, had stunningly successful careers at WVU.
"Donnie was doing everything he should do to prepare for the season. Mike Mason, a chiropractor in Bridgeport, got together with Donnie over the summer to work on some things. When Donnie and Mike finished their work together, Donnie noticed he'd hurt his shoulder a little," Turnbull reported. It was more than a little: an MRI revealed a torn labrum, which was surgically corrected. Jones will miss the entire year due to the injury.
The good news is that two wrestlers who redshirted last year will be available for competition this season. Zac Fryling, who formerly wrestled at 165, is moving down to the 157-pound category. "This will be a very good move for him," Turnbull argued. "He was powerful enough and used his stature to his advantage, but at 165 was at a little bit of a mechanical disadvantage at his size. 157 will be a more natural weight class for him. He's itching to go. He enjoys working hard. You almost have to watch him so he doesn't overwork."
The coach's son, Kyle Turnbull, is also coming off a redshirt year, due to an emergency appendectomy that occurred about this time last year. "Kyle's good," his proud father and coach stated. "During his time off, he's done very well academically, and has spent his time well. He will an adjustment period, since he's been away from competition for a while, but he's looking forward to competing again." Turnbull anticipates applying to the NCAA for an extra year of competition for Kyle, because he's had two years impacted by injury.
As the season begins, with the WVU Open on Saturday, November 4, the fearless leader reflected on his hopes. "We have big challenges this year. We've got a young group, trying to get a lot accomplished. There will be a lot of different unexpected turns in the road, and you have to help each individual negotiate. The year will be a fun journey. We've got a lot of distance to travel, lots of challenges along the way, some you don't anticipate."
With an experienced driver at the wheel, a beautiful new space in which to prepare, and a squadron of promising young wrestlers, the season's journey will be an exciting one.
"The WVU Open is always a great way to start our season," says head coach Craig Turnbull. "We aren't as worried about the results on Saturday as we are getting all of the guys some experience heading into the rest of our schedule. This tournament allows our athletes the chance to fine-tune the things they have been working on in practice while wrestling some quality opponents."
The tournament is a classic open tournament where there are no team scores and anyone is able to participate. Last season sophomore Kurt Brenner won the 174-pound title for the West Virginia. Former Mountaineer great Matt Lebe also claimed a championship at the 157-pound weight class.
This season promises to be an exciting one as two wrestling publications have already picked WVU in their respective preseason polls. TheWrestlingMall.com has tabbed West Virginia No. 20, while W.I.N. Magazine has picked the Mountaineers No. 22.
WVU returns eight starters from a year ago including All-American 141-pounder Brandon Rader and NCAA qualifiers Brenner, David Jaurgui (149), Zac Fryling (157), Larry Hall (165) and Jared Villers.