After more than a month of away meets, Duke takes to the home mats against two top-25 opponents.
The Blue Devils face No. 12 Virginia Friday in an ACC matchup before welcoming No. 24 Stanford to Durham for the first time on Saturday. Virginia enters Friday fresh off an undefeated bout in the Virginia Dual Tournament, and Stanford hopes to bounce back from a loss against No. 20 Oregon State.
Duke (3-5, 0-1 in the ACC) will look to continue its two-match win streak, established Jan. 12 at the Pittsburgh Dual Tournament. After starting the day with two losses, the Blue Devils notched blowout wins against Clarion and Buffalo to gain momentum in the new year.
“We haven’t had any head-to-heads with [Virginia or Stanford] yet, so I’m excited to see what we’ve got,” head coach Glen Lanham said. “We’ve got some young guys, but they’re competitive, so I’m looking forward to them getting out there and competing.”
The dual meet against Virginia will be the Blue Devils’ second ACC matchup after losing the opener to No. 2 Pittsburgh on Saturday. The Cavaliers currently have a ranked wrestler in every class from 141 to 184 pounds and were last year’s conference runners-up.
Duke has not registered a team win against Virginia (11-2, 1-0) since 2005. Although the last three encounters between these two teams took place in Charlottesville, Va., the Blue Devils will claim home-mat advantage Friday. The squad has not had a chance to wrestle in Durham since taking on then-No. 9 Ohio State on Nov. 23.
“Any time you can wrestle at home, it’s definitely an advantage for your guys, just the comfort level about not being in a hotel, [being] able to eat the meals they’re used to eating,” Lanham said. “I think if our guys wrestle well, we can definitely be competitive in that dual [against Virginia].”
Despite their first ACC loss, the Blue Devils registered two match wins with redshirt junior Immanuel Kerr-Brown at the 149-pound class and redshirt sophomore Conner Hartmann. This week, Hartmann was named the Ronald McDonald House Athlete of the Week and moved to No. 18 in the 197-pound weight class with an overall record of 11-4.
“I’m really excited about this weekend, I’m sure it’s going to go really well, we’re going to give it everything we have,” Hartmann said. “We just need to trust that our training’s going to work, that what our coaches tell us is what we need to do.”
After Virginia, Duke will turn around to face Stanford for the first time in school history. The meet will feature a ranked matchup at 197 pounds between Hartmann and No. 20 Dan Scherer. The Cardinal (9-4) has started only two true freshmen in a total of five matches this season, while the Blue Devils will likely start three if not four true freshmen on Saturday.
Part of the young lineup is due to a leg injury sustained by redshirt junior Brandon Gambucci in November. Since then, Duke has been changing the lineup to fill the gap and remain competitive.
“Our lineup’s a little juggled right now, so we’re hoping to get it a little solid, but it is what it is. You’ve got bodies in there, and it’s the next man up that has to be able to step in and perform,” Lanham said. “Our younger guys have to learn how to execute in situations, and I think if we do that, [Virginia and Stanford] should be pretty good duals for us.”