The Blue Devils are doing things differently this season—and that starts with the Hokie Open. After months of wrestling their own teammates, Duke and more than 20 other teams will travel to Blacksburg, Va. Sunday for the first tournament of the season.
Last year, most of the freshmen and sophomores participated in the less-competitive Citadel Open instead of the Hokie Open. Confident in his team’s talent and preparation, new head coach Glen Lanham is bringing the entire roster to Blacksburg.
“Overall [Citadel] didn’t really do a lot for our guys,” Lanham said. “The competition at the Hokie Open is tougher, but the guys that we’re bringing in are at that level of competition.”
The new coaching staff has breathed fresh life into the program, making key changes that will hopefully pay handsome dividends for the Blue Devils this season.
“Our new coaching staff has really changed the way things are done,” Duke sophomore Brandon Gambucci said. “We’ve been doing individual workouts the last couple months. Everybody’s weight is under control, our conditioning’s great, technically we look better than we’ve ever looked [and] talent-wise we’re better than we’ve ever been.”
Although the season has yet to begin, other programs around the country have already started to take note of the Blue Devils.
“Coach Lanham is going to bring a new energy to Duke wrestling,” Virginia Tech head coach Kevin Dresser said. “He’s got a chance to have one of the best years in Duke wrestling.”
In the Hokie Open, which will serve as a measuring stick, the Blue Devils hope to establish themselves as a legitimate national contender right from the get-go. The tournament will also showcase individual wrestlers’ strengths and weaknesses that need to be addressed before the start of the dual meet season.
“It’s a really good indicator of where you’re at early in the season and what you’re ready to do, as well as what you need to improve on as far as managing your weight better, managing your diet or something along those lines,” Hokie senior Jarrod Garnett said.
Additionally, it affords individual wrestlers a valuable opportunity to earn national recognition early in the season.
“It really gets people’s names out there,” Gambucci said. “Personally it’s what got my name out there last year. There’s going to be a lot of ranked kids, which is an opportunity for other individuals to knock them off and jump in the rankings themselves.”
Lanham believes that Duke will surprise a lot of people. Among the wrestlers that he thinks will make a statement in the tournament are Gambucci, senior Peter Terrezza and sophomore Tanner Hough. Terrezza recorded 19 victories last year, and Gambucci and Hough tied for the team lead in victories with 23 apiece. Hough became just the second true freshman in Blue Devil history to qualify for the NCAA Championships. Gambucci, who took second in the Hokie Open last season, is setting the bar high for both himself and his teammates Sunday.
“Last year I ended up getting second so I’d like to win it this year,” he said. “We have high aspirations for it. We’re looking to get a ton of placers, a lot of champs.”