2x NCAA qualifier Patrick McCormick (photos courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
The Hoos return the bulk of their lineup as they look to build off the successes of last season. They will be led by five returning NCAA qualifiers including preseason #9 Justin McCoy and #13 Jake Keating. They will have a great balance led by experienced starters with young talent working to break into the lineup. Coach Garland and company have put together some solid recruiting classes and have several redshirt and true freshmen pushing the starters. A few of those freshmen put on a show during the wrestle-offs and made the case that they are ready to go. Garrett Grice, Kyle Montaperto, and Nick Sanko all looked phenomenal last week; I am very excited to see how their five dates are used to get them experience. The future is bright for the Hoos. The coaching staff took a different approach to off-season conditioning this year and they are entering the season healthier than they have been the past few years; Coach Garland has also spoken very highly of the team nutritionist and the improvements the team has made in regard to weight management. Both of these things could prove to be very beneficial in March.
Justin McCoy returns for his fourth year in the starting lineup coming off his best year in Charlottesville. Last season he put together a 20-4 record and nearly made the podium in Detroit, falling to Peyton Hall in the bloodround. He is a three-time NCAA qualifier and a two-time ACC finalist; falling to Hayden Hidlay and Jake Wentzel. McCoy returns healthy and ready to make a run at an ACC title and the podium in Tulsa. He is an integral part of the culture in the room and is a leader on the team and is poised to have another great season.
Jay Aiello made his mark on the UVA program in his time in Charlottesville. He was an ACC champ, a three-time ACC finalist and a four-time NCAA qualifier. He dropped in the bloodround in Detroit after someâ€¦uh, questionable officiatingâ€¦in his match against Max Dean, who would go on to win an NCAA title. Jay also won a bronze medal at the U23 World Championships in his final season. He made the USA Wrestling National Team and is still living in Charlottesville, training with the Cavalier Wrestling RTC.
Quinn Miller graduated last year after a successful career with the Hoos. He was a three-time NCAA qualifier and an anchor for the team in many duals. He was also the winner of the inaugural InterMat ACC Award for Best Facial Hair. He was at the wrestle-offs this weekend, and I'm happy to report that he still has a fantastic mustache.
Brian Courtney quietly put together an impressive resume during his time in Charlottesville. He bounced between 133 and 141 depending on the needs of the team and qualified for the NCAA tournament at both weights. He had a great run in Detroit to make the bloodround where he fell in a tough match to Devan Turner.
Neil Antrassian transferred from Penn to UVA for grad school and will finish out his eligibility with the Hoos. He was a two-year starter for the Quakers--the Ivy League did not compete in 2021--and comes to Charlottesville with an above .500 record for his career.
Gabe Christensen transferred mid-year last season from Iowa as a 197 and has bulked up to fill the spot left by the graduation of Quinn Miller. He has looked strong and will be competitive at the weight.
WRESTLERS TO WATCH
McCoy enters the year with a preseason top-10 ranking and will definitely be one to watch, but there are two others that I'm keeping an eye on.
Jake Keating is coming off his second trip to the NCAA tournament where he went 2-2. He had an injury-shortened season but made the most of his time on the mat. He went 17-7 in a compressed season and placed 3rd at the ACC tournament. He finds himself in the toughest weight in the ACC but will be challenging for the top spot.
Michael Battista has improved every year he has been in the UVA room and I expect that trend to continue. He is coming off his first NCAA appearance and a 15-8 record. He will make the move up a weight class to fill the spot vacated with the graduation of Jay Aiello; I think this will be a great move for Battista. He was big at 184 and I think the weight management took away from some of the horsepower he has that makes him dangerous. He will be able to compete on full feed at 197 and the schedule lines up well for him at that weight.
TOP OUT-OF-CONFERENCE DUAL
The Hoos will have an early-season test at home when they face #9 Northwestern in Memorial Gym. This serves as the back half of a home and home dual that was made after the late cancellation of the Midlands last year. There will be several good head-to-head matches and several that will be a good measuring stick for the younger guys in the lineup.
141 #9 Frankie Tal-Shahar v Dylan Cedeno
149 #9 Yahya Thomas v #20 Jarod Verkleeren
184 Jack Jessen v #24 Neil Antrassian
197 #32 Andrew Davison v #33 Michael Battista
125: Patrick McCormick (14-13) 2x NCAA Qualifier
133: Eric Roggie (12-6) Southeast Open Champ Freshman/Sophomore Div
Garrett Grice True Freshman
141: Dylan Cedeno (5-8) NCAA Qualifier
149: #21 Jarod Verkleeren (16-10) NCAA Qualifier
157: #13 Jake Keating (17-7) 2x NCAA Qualifier
165: #9 Justin McCoy (20-4) 3x NCAA Qualifier (Blood Round 2022)
174: Vic Marcelli (5-4) NCAA Qualifier
Justin Phillips (15-11)
184: #24 Neil Antrassian (16-10 at Penn)
197: #32 Michael Battista (15-8) NCAA Qualifier
285: Gabe Christensen (10-6)