Brandon Gambucci won both of his weekend matches against Northwestern and Stevens Tech.
Brandon Gambucci won both of his weekend matches against Northwestern and Stevens Tech.

The Blue Devils split their opening dual matches of the season, falling to No. 13 Northwestern 33-12 and defeating Stevens Tech, an unranked Division III team, 33-15 in Evanston, Ill. Saturday evening.

“I think our guys are stepping up and starting to compete a little harder,” Duke head coach Glen Lanham said.

Two Blue Devils, redshirt sophomore Brandon Gambucci and redshirt freshman Dylan Ryan, won both bouts that they competed in. Eight of the nine Duke wrestlers won at least one match.

Ryan, who is called “Rhino” by his coaches and teammates, struggled in the early-season tournaments, posting a 0-6 record. Lanham emphasized improvement throughout the season over records, noting that if wrestlers perform well in the final test of the season—the ACC tournament—they will secure themselves bids to the NCAA meet.

This weekend, Ryan was an example of the improvement that Lanham hopes to see in his wrestlers.

“Rhino did a great job of adjusting his attitude and technique,” Lanham said. “Rhino is capable of wrestling at a high level, but he needed to have the attitude that he can compete and win. He changed his attitude and transferred what he did in the room to what he did on the mat.”

Ryan, fellow redshirt freshman Marcus Cain and Gambucci were the only Blue Devils to win their matches against the Wildcats. In the Keystone Classic Nov. 18, Ryan lost to Northwestern senior Marcus Shrewsbury 5-4 in the 184-pound weight class, and Cain lost to Wildcat sophomore Dylan Marriott 7-5 in the 149-pound division. Ryan and Cain avenged these close losses Saturday, defeating the same opponents in hard-fought matches.

Lanham believes that like Ryan, Cain made adjustments in practice that helped him come away with the win against a tough Northwestern opponent the second time around.

“Marcus made some nice adjustments,” Lanham said. “The assistant coaches worked with him on a couple areas of attack. He really got those down. He did a great job with his defense as well.”

Just minutes after losing to the Wildcats, the Blue Devils retook the mat against Stevens Tech. Lanham believes that the score, 33-15, does not accurately reflect Duke’s domination of the underdog opponent.

“The score does not tell the match,” he said. “We pretty much handled them. The score doesn’t reflect that because we had a forfeit. That’s six points right there. I felt comfortable with what our guys did out there.”

Redshirt freshman Andrew DeHart forfeited his match in the 157-pound weight class due to a knee injury.

Although the Blue Devils beat Stevens Tech, Lanham was quick to acknowledge that they have tough wrestlers on its roster. The closeness of some of Duke’s matches against the Ducks was a testament to that.

“I know there are tough kids, whether it’s Division I, II or III,” he said. Lanham said that competing against Northwestern was great preparation for the Blue Devils’ upcoming tests against Eastern Michigan and No. 14 Michigan on the road in Ypsilanti, Mich. next weekend.