Three-time NCAA qualifier Gage Curry (Photo/Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
As the NCAA has loosened restrictions and penalties for student-athletes to transfer, navigating the transfer portal has become an important aspect of roster management. The transfer portal has been much more active this year than in years past. With the craziness of the last two seasons and Covid shutdowns and protocols, it's understandable that there is chaos here as there is in the coaching carousel. Other reasons play a role in the increase in athletes in the portal--Fresno State shutting down the program caused an early flood and the extra year of eligibility has caused both lineup and scholarship jams causing many to find another home for their last year of eligibility. ACC teams have seen mostly not-starters or spot-starters searching for new homes. Four of the programs have added transfers that should make an immediate impact.
UVA was the first to hit the portal and added one transfer from Penn State in 149 pounder Jarod Verkrleeren. He will slide into the starting lineup between Brian Courtney, who will stay at 141, and Jake Keating, who will be dropping to 157 this year. Verkleeren is already on Grounds and says he feels at home with the team and the staff. "The team bond is amazing and I feel that Coach Garland and the Paulson's (Associate Head Coach Travis and Assistant Coach Trent) are an ingredient I was missing." Verkleeren spoke highly of his time at Penn State but said he was ready for a change of scenery and a fresh start--and this extra year allowed for that at UVA.
Pitt hit a double on the transfer market adding Elijah Cleary from Ohio State and Gage Curry from American. Both will step into starting roles shoring up weight classes that weren't as strong for the Panthers last season. Curry, a Pittsburgh native, moved back last year after the NCAA tournament and completed his courses online while evaluating his options for this season. "Being back home around friends and family was a big factor in my decision...then seeing the success Pitt has had recently made me excited to get on board and learn from the coaching staff for the next season." Curry, a four-time NCAA qualifier, will jump into the starting spot at 125, bringing valuable experience to the Panther lineup. "My goal has always been to be on the podium in March; I think I can do that here and I think the team has what it takes to be a top 10 program and push for a team trophy at nationals". Cleary will also add veteran experience and leadership to the 157 pound weight class. A Florida native, Cleary is looking forward to a change of pace in moving to Pittsburgh….and some Primanti Brothers sandwiches! "I like the coaches' approach to the sport, and they are very knowledgeable. I have goals to be an ACC and NCAA champion, large goals, but I'm confident I have the resources, support and ability to achieve them". Both wrestlers will also be a positive bump in training partners-Curry with Micky Phillippi and Cleary with Jake Wentzel and Luke Kemerer.
Virginia Tech brought a heavyweight scholar with an amazing head of hair to Blacksburg from the west coast. Nathan Traxler joins the Hokies after finishing up a stellar career at Stanford. Traxler has been in Blacksburg for a couple weeks and has been enjoying the small-town life and atmosphere. "I wanted to give myself a new atmosphere and a fresh perspective on my wrestling...the motivated atmosphere and quality of training partners and coaches drew me to VT". Traxler will stay at heavyweight this season, while Hunter Catka will take a redshirt season. Traxler is a Pac-12 Champion, four-time NCAA qualifier and was named Pac-12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year last season. He will provide a solid anchor on the top half of a very strong Hokie lineup.
North Carolina was the final team to announce a transfer addition; the Tar Heels added Khizan Clarke from American. Clarke will complete Law School at UNC while filling the 149 slot vacated by National Champion Austin O'Connor, who is moving up to 157. Clarke had a fantastic season in the COVID-shortened 2019-2020 season and was named NWCA Honorable Mention All-American after finishing the year 36-7. "Coleman (Head Coach Coleman Scott) is breeding a champion mentality in the UNC room and that's what I will need to become an NCAA Champion. UNC School of Law is also a very prestigious program that will set me up for success in the legal community". Clarke will make an immediate impact at 149 in the ACC and will be a high-pace training partner for Austin O'Connor. "I want to be a National Champion and help UNC win their first conference championship." This addition will allow freshman Lachlan McNeil to redshirt and will make the Tar Heels an even stronger competitor for the ACC title.
The transfer portal has been good to the ACC this season and these five are ready to hit the mat. Curry said, "The excitement around the ACC has been something that I have noticed the last two years, but last year in particular with some of the great dual matches, so I'm looking forward to being part of that. The competition within the ACC has shown that it is among the best in the country, so I'm excited for all of the matchups". The ACC is primed for a strong conference battle, and these new faces are going to add to the level of competition across the board.