As West Virginia prepares to begin its abbreviated 2021 wrestling campaign this weekend, head coach Tim Flynn notes that the absence of the open events that typically dotted the November and December portions of the schedule will have an effect on his roster – especially for those backups battling for more prominent roles.
In a standard year, open tournaments and several non-conference dual matches populate the first two months of the season, giving ample time and experience for many roster members to grow and develop. This year, it’s just one quad meet at home this weekend, and one dual match the following Sunday before the Big 12 season begins.
“It changes the way the season plays out. There are a lot of kids, young kids and backups that are supposed to be getting all these open tournaments in. It’s tough on those kids,” said Flynn, who is entering his third year at the head of the Mountaineer program after 21 seasons at Edinboro. “There are some pretty darn good kids that are going to get zero or one match (this year). It is changing a lot for them, and it’s going to be a tough adjustment.”
That limited early season time also threw a bit of a wrench in selecting starting lineups for the early season matches. WVU held wrestle-offs just before Christmas to try to get a handle on what its lineup would be in January, but Flynn noted that athletes moving between weight classes meant that it wouldn’t be a strict “winner earns the spot” process.
“In our sport it’s easy to say the guy that wins the wrestle-offs is in there, but we’re like any other sport. The guy who performs the best is in there,” Flynn said.
“I think at 149 (Brayden) Roberts will start off for us, and (Michael) Wolfgram at heavyweight. At 184 there were two overtime matches and (Anthony) Carman gets the nod but we may get (Jackson) Moomau in for a match this weekend. Joe Thomas (133) wrestled up in weight, and he won that spot, so we’ll see what it looks like.”
WVU has three matches scheduled for Sunday against Kent State, Ohio and Virginia Tech, so it won’t be a surprise to see the lineup vary in spots.
One position that won’t be in question is 197, where No. 1-ranked Noah Adams sits. Expected to be a top contender for a national title before the tournament was wiped away last year, Adams sits atop the nation in the preseason after compiling a 32-0 record a season ago.
“I expect him to keep doing the same thing, putting his hard hat on, working hard and competing hard,” said Flynn of his outlook for Adams. “He will have to deal with more. When you are the top-ranked guy and everybody wants to beat you, it’s different than being even the No. 2 ranked guy. Every time out you are getting someone’s A game. But we expect him to keep competing hard and doing his best, and his best is a really high level. If he competes at his best good things will happen.”
WVU also welcomed transfer Killian Cardinale to the team, and he too his high expectations. The former Old Dominion grappler is a consensus Top 15 preseason pick at 125.
“I think he is going to do well,” Flynn said. “He approaches the sport the way we want kids to. He is early to practice, he takes care of his body, he eats right, he stretches. He tries to do all the right things. It’s a blessing to have another guy in there doing everything he can to be the best he can be. We need that. The more guys you have like that, it drags some of the younger guys up.”
WVU is hoping to improve its record against Big 12 competition. Last year the Mountaineers were just 1-7 in conference play and 4-12 overall, following a 2018-19 season of 4-14 and 3-6, respectively. Flynn doesn’t set a goal for a specific number of wins he’d like to see, but notes that individual improvement will lead to a bump in in performance by the team in terms of wins.
“At the end of the day, we look at each kid and analyze where they are and try to get them as high up as they can be by the end of the season. Then you add all of that up and see where your team is,” Flynn explained.
“It’s been a long two years as far as winning. We know we are in a competitive conference where you will run into Top 10 programs. In college you can lose a dual meet 30-0 but every match could be down to the wire, so the score looks bad but you think, ‘Man, that was a tight match.’ But we have had some losses where it wasn’t like that. We need to be more competitive, and we want to win. We want to get more wins and put more kids on the stand at the NCAA Tournament.”