The West Virginia wrestling team heads into the final match of the regular season this Friday evening against No. 13 Iowa State in a big night for the program, as they push for NCAA Tournament bids this March.
Noah Adams — the highest ranked wrestler on the roster at No. 7 — has seen two losses out of his last five matchups, both coming against his Achilles' heel, Wyoming’s No. 12 Stephen Buchanan. Both matches have been tightly contested between the two but with Buchanan earning the wins with late takedowns.
WVU head coach Tim Flynn is adamant that when Adams ultimately meets Buchanan for the third time in the postseason, Adams will be ready to avenge his historic win streak, which was ultimately capped at 39-straight wins by Buchanan on Feb. 6.
“Noah [Adams] wrestled two complete matches. He just got worn down by the Wyoming kid [Buchanan] both times,” Flynn said. “He knows what to expect and where to improve his game here and there. There’s no doubt in my mind he can beat him the next time around.”
As is the case with most wrestling seasons, the end of the regular season schedule usually is accompanied by injury issues, not just for the Mountaineers, but for programs across the country. During a season unlike any other, WVU was not able to avoid the injury bug entirely.
Redshirt junior Killian Cardinale, one of three Mountaineers nationally-ranked at No. 25, has been dealing with injuries for a few weeks and did not compete last Sunday at the Cowboy Challenge.
The Bristow, Virginia, native looks to return to the mat on Friday in the Mountaineers' regular season finale. He is currently on a five-match win streak and sits at 7-3 on the year.
“He’s been banged up, but he’ll see action on Friday,” Flynn said. “He’s been so good for us this year, and we need him down the stretch.”
One part of the team that will be integral to the Mountaineers finding success in the postseason this year is the so-called “young guns.” Freshmen Ryan Sullivan and Peyton Hall are both nationally ranked, while Hall is tied with Adams for the team-lead in wins this season at 10. Despite Friday evening being Senior Night, both Sullivan and Hall will be in the lineup for Flynn.
“Everyone needs to get time in on the mat,” Flynn said. “Freshman, sophomore, whatever. I don’t care if you’re a third-grader, we need all our guys to be ready to go for the tournaments.”
In Friday’s matchup with the Cyclones, the Mountaineers will have 20 wrestlers compete two in each weight class.
Following the regular season finale on Friday, West Virginia will turn its attention to the Big 12 tournaments on March 6-7 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Big 12 features some of the best programs in the country, such as Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and other affiliates such as Wyoming and Northern Colorado.
The main goal at the Big 12 tournament is simple for WVU: qualify for the NCAA National Championships later in March. In the West Virginia wrestling program’s history, there have been only three national champions: Scott Collins, in 1991, Dean Morrison, in 1994 and Greg Jones in 2002, 2004 and 2005.
The Big 12 has been given the second most automatic bids for the NCAA tournament with 45, only trailing the Big 10's 80 automatic bids.