Duke was left disappointed on the mats after its first weekend of team competition.
In their first dual meet of the season, the Blue Devils dropped a match Saturday against No. 23 Purdue, falling 27-7. The squad faced Indiana and Cleveland State the following day, losing a close battle 22-15 to the Hoosiers and bouncing back to defeat the Vikings 19-16. Duke won 12 matches overall, with redshirt sophomore Trey Adamson and redshirt junior Immanuel Kerr-Brown going undefeated on the weekend.
“Overall, I felt like it was just little adjustments that we have to make in order to be more successful,” head coach Glen Lanham said. “The way our guys wrestled and competed, I felt like the matches were [close].”
Facing off against Purdue, Adamson kicked off the meet with a major-decision win to give Duke a 4-0 lead. Purdue won the next four matches by decision, including wins over Duke’s three true freshmen. In the sixth match at the 141-pound weight class, redshirt junior Brandon Gambucci lost by pin, giving Purdue the edge at 18-4. Gambucci was unable to compete for the remainder of the weekend, and Duke won only one more match on Saturday with Kerr-Brown at 157 pounds.
“The Purdue [outcome] definitely didn’t reflect the closeness of the match," Lanham said. "When Gambucci got hurt, that match kind of turned the tide a little bit."
Heading into the second day of competition, Duke and Indiana traded wins back-and-forth for the first eight matches. With two matches left and a 15-13 lead, Duke was forced to forfeit the 133-pound weight class, giving the Hoosiers six points and the lead. A final decision with at 141 pounds left Duke on the wrong end of a 22-15 final score.
Wrestling Cleveland State, the Blue Devils claimed the first six matches including a major decision by No. 18 Conner Hartmann at 197 pounds gave Duke a staggering 19-0 lead. Despite losing the last four matches, the Blue Devils held on to edge out the 19-16 victory.
“We could probably have gone 2-0 on [Sunday] and had a really good showing, but we kind of put more stock into learning and getting better than the outcome of those matches,” Lanham said. “From the Purdue match to the [Indiana] match and then to the Cleveland State match, I feel like the guys performed well.”
Freshmen Jacob Kasper, Evan Botwin and Connor Bass competed in their first collegiate meets representing Duke. Each wrestler came home with a win in their respective weight classes in either the Indiana or the Cleveland State meet.
“We were in certain conditions where I knew that [the freshmen] knew what they should do in those positions, but I felt like they didn’t really capitalize on that, but that just comes with experience,” Lanham said. “When you get to college, you have tough, Division I competition, you have to wrestle the entire match.”
One bright spot in Duke’s 1-2 weekend were the performances by Kerr-Brown, who held all of his opponents to three points or fewer, and Adamson, who had two major decisions and scored 36 points in his three matches. Lanham attributed these two breakout performances to the wrestlers’ decisions to stay in Durham over the summer to train.
The Blue Devils will have one week before wrestling No. 10 Ohio State Saturday on their home mats in Card Gymnasium. The two teams have never wrestled against each other, but the Duke squad will likely face four ranked Buckeyes, including No. 1 Logan Steiber at the 141-pound weight class. Duke will have to work hard in practice to prepare for such a formidable opponent.
“There were things we worked on prior to the match that I felt were working for us,” Lanham said. “We have to finish our matches a little better, and I think we’ll be fine.”