Duke’s young, injury-ridden team will look for a midseason pickup against familiar foe Gardner-Webb.
The Blue Devils will take on the Runnin' Bulldogs 5 p.m. Wednesday at Card Gymnasium. After a recent two-match skid, Duke looks to maintain its 10-year undefeated streak against Gardner-Webb.
“I feel like we know them pretty well, and that’s why we have them on our schedule when we don’t have to,” head coach Glen Lanham said. “They’re a gritty team and they play hard, and that’s what matters right now. A lot of people get caught up in how many duals you win, but my thing is just getting guys experienced for ACCs and Nationals, and that’s what this team is. It’s a good test for us.
Wednesday’s contest marks the sixth match in a row that the Blue Devils (5-10) will start at a deficit due to forfeits. Freshman Xavier Ramos lost to Runnin' Bulldog Ryan Mosley at the Hokie Open in November, but will be unable to compete this week because of a knee injury. Instead, his 141-pound weight class, along 125, will forfeit and give Gardner-Webb (6-12) a 12-point head start.
“It’s gonna be a tight match,” Lanham said. “We’re going in forfeiting the 141 and 125 [weight classes]. Any time you spot someone 12 points, it can make a match of it. But the guys that are in there for us can pull it out. If we just go out there and compete, we should have a good performance. But it is unusual—usually you try to go two weight classes deep.”
Fresh off ACC Wrestler of the Week honors, 197-pound redshirt sophomore Conner Hartmann looks to reassert his place in the national polls this week after bouncing in and out of the rankings this season. Hartmann upset No. 14 Brandon Palik in Saturday’s loss to Drexel, marking his second victory against a ranked opponent this year. Redshirt junior Immanuel Kerr-Brown has also been on a tear of late, and narrowly snapped a five-match winning streak in a tight contest against Drexel this past weekend.
Lanham noted the importance of growth this season as a team. Fourteen of this year’s wrestlers are either redshirt or true freshmen.
“[We’re working on] finishes, and not being lazy in positions. Our guys sometimes want to stay down on their knees," Lanham said. "It’s hard to come up to your feet when you’ve got another opponent’s leg, even though that’s the best position for us. We’re trying to teach our guys to not always look for the easy way—the best way is not always the easy way. I feel like they’re responding to it.”
Both teams are approaching the game with expectations to snap losing streaks. Gardner-Webb is also likely to expect a strong performance from 22nd-ranked 166-pounder Austin Trott, who has a 22-3 record on the season. The Runnin' Bulldogs would also have the added accolade of beating an ACC team.
“It’d be a big win for them, cause we’re an ACC team,” Lanham said. “We just have to get out there—ACC, Big South, whatever, it’s going to be tough.”
Despite the Blue Devil’s deficit, Hartmann feels confident about the match given his recollections of the Runnin' Bulldogs from last season.“I don’t really remember them,” he said. “And I think that speaks for itself."
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