The last episode of Duke's regular season showcased individual victories, but the team ended dual competition with two more losses on its record.
In its final day of regular-season competition, Duke fell to N.C. State 25-13 and No. 21 Northwestern 23-16 at Card Gymnasium. Although the final duals were both losses for the Blue Devils, both matches featured impressive individual performances as the team looks toward to postseason competition.
“I felt like we competed well, I felt like we forced the action,” head coach Glen Lanham said. “We got those guys tired and frustrated, and we had some good matches and some good wins, and we just have to keep it going.”
Although Duke (6-15, 0-6 in the ACC) finished the regular season winless in conference, two Blue Devils earned their first ACC wins Saturday morning in the 174- and 184-pound classes. At 184 pounds, true freshman Jacob Kasper edged out a narrow 9-6 win to give the Blue Devils three team points and set the team's season-high for points against a conference opponent. Kasper gained his momentum from the previous round of wrestling, where 174-pound Trey Adamson came from behind to win a 7-5 decision, his first in an ACC match this season.
"Trey Adamson had a really good match against a really tough opponent,” Lanham said. “He’s talented and capable of wrestling really hard, so it was good for him to put a hard seven minutes together.”
Victories from No. 18 Conner Hartmann put Duke on the scoreboard first in both meets. The redshirt sophomore had no trouble downing Wolfpack opponent KaRonne Jones 9-1 in the first match of the morning. Squaring off against No. 13 Alex Polizzi of Northwestern (9-7), Hartmann pulled off the upset in the final six seconds, taking a 6-5 lead from a takedown and earning riding time to give him the 7-5 win.
“That was a fun match,” Hartmann said. “I knew after we came out of our first scramble that he was really tired, and I was pretty tired too—but it was just fun.”
Challenging Hartmann’s upset for the most exciting match of the day was the matchup at 157 pounds between Blue Devil Immanuel Kerr-Brown and Wildcat Ben Sullivan. After losing his first conference match of the season against Tommy Gantt of N.C. State (14-7, 2-4) a few hours earlier, Kerr-Brown took to the mat looking to end his regular season with a win. Duke fans held their breath as, down 2-0, the redshirt junior called for an injury timeout, grabbing his shoulder.
“I was a little worried,” Lanham said. “I thought it was his shoulder at first, then I thought he got knocked out.”
But the Rome, Ga., native returned to the mat, quickly dropping three more points and managing just one escape to go down 5-1 in the first period. A high-energy second period saw an escape for Sullivan and two Duke takedowns to cut the score to 6-5. Managing an escape in the final period, Kerr-Brown tied the score at six to send the match into a sudden-death overtime period. It took just one takedown to give the Blue Devil 157-pounder the 8-6 win.
“You’re always worried going in. You cross your fingers—you just want to get to ACCs healthy,” Lanham said. “But he got up and wrestled right through that and came out with the win. He’s a tough kid, I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people at the ACC tournament—I feel like he can be on top of the podium.”
Duke's 25-16 loss to Northwestern marks the narrowest gap in any of the team's seven contests against a ranked opponent. Decision wins late in the match by Kerr-Brown, Adamson and Kasper weren't enough to overcome an early 14-3 deficit that kept the Wildcats on top.
The Blue Devils will shift their focus to the ACC tournament in Blacksburg, Va., March 8. With the regular season now in the books, Lanham's club must ready itself for the do-or-die nature of postseason competition.
“I talk about winning and learning all the time,” Lanham said. “Now the learning’s over—It’s just losing and winning.”