Duke wrestling taking 'no excuses' heading into ACC wrestling championships

It is the postseason—there are no excuses.

After two weeks of practice and preparation, the Blue Devils will hit the mat Sunday for the ACC Wrestling Championships in Pittsburgh. As the regular season fades in the rearview mirror, they have to buckle down and prepare to grapple against the best competition in the conference.

“We’re in a great situation,” head coach Glen Lanham said. “No excuses. We haven’t had them all year long. If you’re sick, so what? Get out there and wrestle. That’s what is going to happen.”

No. 7 Conner Hartmann will lead Duke (11-7, 1-4 in the ACC) into the Steel City at 197 as the only member of the team receiving a No. 1 seed. The redshirt junior is undefeated against ACC opponents this season and boasts a 24-2 record overall.

If Hartmann wins one match he will qualify for nationals. With a second win, he will become the 22nd Blue Devil in program history to become an ACC tournament champion.

The Port Orchard, Wash., native receives a bye into the semifinals, and will face the winner of the opening round match between North Carolina’s Chip Ness and N.C. State’s Michael Boykin with a national tournament bid on the line.

“It doesn’t faze him, whether he is the fifth seed or the one seed,” Lanham said. “He is going train just as hard and he is going to go into the matches with the same approach. He is not going to be cautious, he is not going to sit back. The guy can be a great poker player after his career is done because his emotion doesn’t change.”

Aside from Hartmann, redshirt senior Immanuel Kerr-Brown and sophomore Jacob Kasper both received No. 2 seeds for the tournament at 157 and 184, respectively. If the grapplers win their opening matches, they will also qualify for nationals.

The rest of the Blue Devils received either a four, five or six seed for the tournament—each one needs multiple wins to extend the season beyond Pittsburgh. Although it may seem like his squad’s talent was discounted, Lanham is not discouraged by the draw.

“Even though I think they overlooked us and they gave us those seeds because ‘Hey, it’s Duke, we’re going to go ahead and give them the last seed,’ it couldn’t have been better for me,” Lanham said. “It turns out the way that I wanted it to. Now, you just have to get out there and wrestle.”

Freshman standout Mitch Finesilver received the low No. 6 seed at 133, but has had success this year. Wrestling to a 9-5 overall record—including a tournament victory at the Appalachian State Open—the Greenwood Village, Colo., native is poised to make a run. He faces off against No. 3 seed Kevin Norstrem of Virginia Tech—who he defeated on the road this season—in his opening match.

“If you’re Virginia Tech, you got majored by that kid in a dual,” Lanham said. “Finesilver wasn’t at his best then. You’re worried about that match.”

Although Duke has not wrestled in competition since Feb. 21 on the road against then-No. 15 Michigan—a 33-7 blowout loss—the team has been preparing by watching film, practicing and embracing its underdog role via motivation from opponents.

Following tight matches against then-No. 9 Virginia Tech and Michigan State, opposing head coaches made excuses for their poor performances against the Blue Devils. A leaky ceiling in Blacksburg, Va. and the flu in East Lansing, Mich. were both blamed for the success of the Blue Devil grapplers.

“That’s when you know you’re getting good, when people have to make excuses when you’re getting beat,” Lanham said. “I tell our guys, ‘There are no excuses. Michigan beat your butt and that’s bottom line. You got beat. Learn from it and get better. You’re not going to learn from anything if you make excuses.’”

Despite the most successful season in Durham in Lanham’s tenure, he is not satisfied—yet. With ACC titles and a bid to St. Louis to compete in the NCAA Wrestling Championships March 19-21 on the line, there is still a lot left for his wrestlers to compete for Sunday.

For him, the season does not end until the final whistle blows in the final match.

“There are no excuses,” Lanham said. “Seven minutes, two guys out there, you have to wrestle.”


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