Duke’s wrestling team will look to improve on an already-impressive start to the 2014-15 season as it heads southeast to Raleigh Sunday.
In last weekend's Hokie Open, the Blue Devils received third-place finishes from redshirt senior Immanuel Kerr-Brown and redshirt junior Marcus Cain, competing in the 157-pound and 149-pound divisions, respectively.
Head coach Glen Lanham said he was pleased with his team’s performance last weekend, but noted that there are opportunities to improve across the board.
“Right now, I think our top position could be a little better,” Lanham said. “We kind of let guys out a little easy this past weekend, so that’s something we could improve on. I don’t try to give them too much. I felt like overall, it was a really good tournament for our guys. Our freshmen wrestled really well. It was a good summer, they implemented a lot of things we’ve been working on and now we have to focus and be more stingy in the top position.”
Also competing in Blacksburg, Va., last weekend, redshirt sophomores Evan Botwin and Brian Dorsey both finished in fourth place in their weight classes of 141 and 174 pounds. Sophomore Jacob Kasper captured fifth place in the 184-pound division.
Redshirt junior Conner Hartmann, a returning All-American, won his division in the open bracket at 197 pounds. In the freshman and sophomore division, Zach Finesilver and Alec Schenk both secured top finishes at 149 and 184 pounds.
As Kerr-Brown departs to N.C. State to compete in the team’s second meet of this year’s campaign, he will likely have a shot at a rematch with ACC rival Tommy Gantt. The Wolfpack senior narrowly defeated Kerr-Brown in the semifinal at the Hokie Open.
“I’ll get to wrestle him hopefully again this weekend,” Kerr-Brown said. “[In the last] match I didn’t really control the pace. I was really wrestling his match. I was reacting to what he was doing, which wasn’t good.”
Lanham made sure that he spoke with the Rome, Ga., native extensively throughout the week about retaking control of the match.
“If you look at our schedule, it’s set up to stress guys,” Lanham said. “It’s set up to expose weaknesses, and that’s what we accepted. Right now, with those matches Gantt definitely exposed some things that [Kerr-Brown] needs to work on. We know that and we are going to continue to work on those things and continue to make our stride.”
After the success at the Hokie Open, Duke now has three wrestlers ranked in the top 20 within their respective weight classes. Kerr-Brown and Cain both sit at No. 20 and Hartmann is as high as No. 5.
“It’s awesome,” Kerr-Brown said. “It’s definitely a really good start for us. Marcus dropped down two weight classes this year for us to fill in a spot that we needed. Conner’s up there at five, which is really high. I don’t see him going down, I only see him going up. Marcus and I are just in there at the bottom, so we have nowhere to go but up. It looks really good for our program. We have a couple guys on our team that by the end of the season, I think can get into the rankings too.”
If Kasper and Brandon Gambucci can turn in solid seasons, it could help the Blue Devils continue to improve under Lanham's direction. The rankings serve as validation that Duke is on the right track.
“It means a lot,” Lanham said. “It’s a compliment to how these guys have been working. It means a lot to Duke Wrestling. We’ve been down for a long time, so I feel like we are making a turn.”
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