2022 NCAA Round of 12 finisher Justin McCoy (photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Virginia put together a strong season last year, but ended on a tough note with three wrestlers, Brian Courtney, Justin McCoy, and Jay Aiello, falling in the bloodround at the NCAA tournament. The NCAA tournament had some brutal ups and downs for the Hoos, but the wrestlers and coaches handled the adversity with the class and aplomb we've come to expect from the Steve Garland-led program. It was an especially difficult ending for sixth-year team leader Jay Aiello, as he fell to eventual National Champion Max Dean in an incredibly controversial match (#AielloHadBackpoints). Aiello bounced back to knock off two top-15 wrestlers before falling to the three-seed Eric Schultz 4-2.
In the 2022-2023 season will see a good mix of veterans and new faces in the lineup for the Cavaliers. Garland and crew are bringing in a top-10 recruiting class that they are very excited about--the class includes eight top-250 wrestlers and four in the top-100. About this class, Garland said, â€œThis class is incredible. Our staff did a tremendous job bringing in great kids who are not just ranked highly, but more importantly are bought into what we want to build here. They believe in the staff and they believe in the vision for the University of Virginia family.â€
They covered the entire country signing wrestlers from:
California--#30 Michael and #62 Jack Gioffre
Iowa--Robert Avila, #154 Griffin Gammell
Nebraska--#53 Garrett Grice, #104 Nick Hamilton
North Carolina--#90 Kyle Montaperto
Tennessee--#167 Keyveon Roller
New York--#210 Nick Sanko
Virginia--Cooper Rudolph, RJ May
There are a lot of good things happening in Charlottesville, and I expect to see a competitive team for the Hoos next year. Here is a look at how I see the lineup shaking out; there are a few weight changes and potential for a couple transfers to make their way into the lineup.
125: Patrick McCormick
Poquoson native McCormick has been a consistent presence for the Cavaliers since taking over the 125 spot after the graduation of NCAA finalist Jack Mueller. McCormick now gets to work daily with Mueller since he joined the Hoos staff last year. McCormick is a two-time NCAA qualifier and has some solid regular-season wins over NCAA qualifiers. He has struggled in the postseason, but is poised to make a breakthrough in March.
133: Erik Roggie or Garrett Grice
Another Virginia native, Roggie is a two-time Prep National Finalist and was a solid recruit coming into Charlottesville. He was 12-6 last year in his redshirt season, including a sudden-victory win over NCAA qualifier Joe Heilmann (UNC, now Rutgers). Roggie is quick on his feet and sneaky good on top; four of his wins last year were by fall.
Grice is a four-time Nebraska state champ and a Fargo All-American as a Cadet and a Junior. He will make a big impact on the lineup at some point, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him use a redshirt to get accustomed to the college grind.
141: Dylan Cedeno
Cedeno had a strong redshirt year and there were high expectations for his first year in the starting lineup last year. He battled injuries throughout the year and didn't get a consistent run until the end of the season, but he made the most of the time that he was on the mat. Cedeno had three close losses in ACC duals but was able to avenge those, including an upset win over eventual NCAA finalist Kizhan Clarke, in the ACC tournament and qualify for the NCAA Championships. Cedeno has a huge upside and I think we will see big things from him in the coming years.
149: Jarod Verkleeren
Verkleeren will be back for another year for the Hoos and is looking to improve on his performance in what was one of the toughest weights in the ACC last year. Verk had a streaky year in his first year in Charlottesville that had some solid wins before entering the meat grinder of a weight in ACC. He was 15-4 to start the year before ACC competition where he had losses to 2022 All-Americans Bryce Andonian, Tariq Wilson, 2021 All-American Zach Sherman, and 4x NCAA qualifier Josh Finesilver. Verkleeren is coming back with a focus on getting on the podium in March, and he has shown the potential to make that happen.
157: Jake Keating
Keating was out the first half of the season with injuries but made an impressive run in the back half of the year to finish at 17-7 in the round of 16 at the NCAA Championships. Keating had some solid wins last year, Kendall Coleman, Ed Scott, and was in close matches in the majority of his losses. If Keating is able to stay healthy and has a full year of working out with Justin McCoy in the room, I expect big things from both of them.
165: Justin McCoy
McCoy will be returning to the mat with a lot of expectations on his shoulders. He had a fantastic season last year, entering the postseason with a 15-1 record before losing in the ACC Championship match to Jake Wentzel. McCoy picked up three wins in Detroit before falling in the bloodround. McCoy will return as one of the team leaders on and off the mat. He knows the path to getting onto the podium in March, and I for one, expect to see him there next year.
174: Vic Marcelli or Justin Phillips
Phillips held down the starting spot for most of last season as Marcelli was out for the year with injuries. He had a decent season and was in the match in several of his losses--he definitely showed a competitive fire and a lot of potential. Phillips was 15-11 on the year; Marcelli held the spot in the 2021 season and ended the shortened year as an NCAA qualifier. This will be a weight to watch for the Hoos.
184: Wide Open
With the graduation of Jay Aiello and Michael Battista moving up to 197, the Hoos are wide open for competition at 184. There will be a battle between some veterans who are looking to crack the lineup on a full-time basis. Hudson Stewart, Robby Patrick and Hadyn Danals will be competing along with first-year Griffin Gammell for the slot at 184. I think Stewart (20-8 last season) and Hadyn Danals (11-3 last season) will be the frontrunners and could be competitive in the lineup on day one. Gammell is one of the big recruits coming to Grounds this season; he has improved every year and ended this season atop the podium in Iowa. There is a lot of potential from Gammell, but I would expect him to take a redshirt year to acclimate to college. Keep your eyes on the transfer portal for the Hoos here as wellâ€¦
197: Michael Battista
Battista is a large human and will be moving up to 197 next year after the departure of Jay Aiello. I think this move will be great for Battista and will allow him to focus more on the mat and less on weight. Battista has continued to improve and at points last season showed that he can hang with almost anyone in the country. He started last season on an 11-1 run before ACC competition and ended the season as an NCAA qualifier with a 15-8 record. Battista is best when he is attacking and dictating the match. I think the move to 197 will allow for him to be in this position more.
285: Gabe Christensen
Christensen was a mid-season transfer last season from Iowa and had limited mat time as a redshirt. He was 10-6 last season at 197 and will be making the move up to 285 for next year. Christensen will be taking over after the graduation of three-time NCAA Quinn Miller. Time will tell if Gabe can replicate the mustache success of Quinn.