The Blue Devils are still searching for their first win against a ranked opponent.
Returning to conference play fresh off a victory against Appalachian State, Duke will face No. 17 Virginia Tech Friday in Charlotte, N.C. The Hokies hope to extend their three-match win streak, while a Blue Devil upset would record the team’s first conference win.
“It’s definitely going to be tough,” head coach Glen Lanham said. “We’re going to have to have our guys definitely focus on their own individual matches and try to put it together collectively and see how we come out.”
The match will be held at Charlotte Latin School, where all proceeds will benefit the Wounded Warrior Project. The neutral venue intends to attract a large crowd in support of both teams.
“We have to do our part to make sure that the sport continues to grow,” Lanham said. “We want to put our actions behind our words. Duke wrestling has always talked about being at the forefront of trying to grow our sport, and I feel like this is a great opportunity.”
After two staggering losses against then-No. 12 Virginia and then-No. 24 Stanford, Duke (4-7, 0-2 in the ACC) trailed Appalachian State 15-0 after three bouts. The Blue Devils fought back to gain a tight lead at 22-16 after two falls, and sophomore Conner Hartman finished the night with a decision in the heavyweight class to drop the Mountaineers 25-16.
“[Wednesday] was definitely a good win, the guys just fought back out of a 15-0 deficit to win the match,” Lanham said. “It was a good showing for us, and definitely [gave us] a little bit of momentum going into tomorrow’s match.”
Winner of five of its last six matchups, Virginia Tech (13-2, 2-1) suffered its only ACC loss at the hands of the rival Cavaliers, who also bested the Blue Devils and remain undefeated in conference.
Looking for its 10th consecutive win over Duke, Virginia Tech’s lineup features four nationally ranked wrestlers. The reigning conference champions have combined experience with new talent in their successful season so far. Two crucial bouts will be at opposite ends of the match, with No. 20 Joey Dance at 125 pounds and Chris Penny at 197 pounds, both of whom are undefeated in ACC duals.
Duke’s roster has seen drastic changes throughout the season, beginning with injuries in November and continuing through Wednesday’s match, where the Blue Devils were forced to forfeit at 125 pounds. In addition, two wrestlers moved up in weight to compete in the 197-pound and heavyweight classes after senior heavyweight Brian Self was injured last week.
“It’s been kind of a tough stretch for us right now…. It’s tough because you know you’re going to be outweighed a little bit, especially at heavyweight,” Lanham said. “A lot of guys stepped up big, especially the guys we bumped up.”
With the frequent shifts in lineup, Duke’s healthy wrestlers have remained competitive on the mats. Redshirt junior Immanuel Kerr-Brown will look to stay undefeated in conference play as he faces No. 17 Zach Neibert. Regardless of dual records for the season, wrestlers compete individually to qualify for national competition in March.
“It’s great to have those guys be able to focus the way they are with the adversity,” Lanham said. “We talk about [it] all the time, about how your individual performances are going to get you to the national tournament. That’s what our goal is, and it’s never changed.”
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