Ranked Duke wrestling squad heads to Wolfpack Open

<p>After jumping into the national rankings, the Blue Devils will look to continue their strong start to the season Sunday at the Wolfpack Open.</p>

After jumping into the national rankings, the Blue Devils will look to continue their strong start to the season Sunday at the Wolfpack Open.

With three Hokie Open titles two weeks in the rearview mirror, the Blue Devils are looking for success at another wide-open tournament on the mats Sunday.

No. 25 Duke will travel to Raleigh to compete in the Wolfpack Open at Carmichael Gymnasium in its second tournament of the season. The Blue Devils' performance at the Hokie Open Nov. 8 earned them national recognition, garnering a top-25 spot for the first time under head coach Glen Lanham.

“It feels good [to be in the top 25]. But you don’t want to sit on that. I look ahead and there are 24 teams ahead of us that we’ve got to get better than,” Lanham said. “It’s people outside of Duke wrestling finally recognizing that this could be a legit program. That’s what we’ve been focused on the whole time. In order to get good, somebody has to notice it. People are starting to notice that ‘Hey, Duke wrestling is a serious contender for a lot of good things.’”

After climbing into the top 25, Duke cannot rest on its laurels moving into this weekend’s schedule of matches. The competition at the Wolfpack Open includes several familiar ACC foes waiting in the wings—including host No. 8 N.C. State.

In order to have a successful outing, Duke is looking to improve on slight changes in pace to assert its dominance when the first whistle blows. For Lanham, that means getting in a position to go on the offensive from the start.

“What we’ve focused on [for the past two weeks] is guys getting to their offense quicker,” he said. “We’re just talking about when you get into it, feel confident pulling the trigger and going for your offense. We’ll see how it works out.”

One Blue Devil grappler that will not have a chance to work on his offense and continue his dominance is 197-pounder Conner Hartmann. After dominating Michigan’s Max Huntley in the NWCA All-Star Classic and only allowing two total points at the Hokie Open en route to a title, the third-ranked redshirt senior will take the weekend off to get healthy and prepare for the rest of the season.

With Hartmann out of the lineup at 197, Duke will experiment with a few changes in the lineup to get more experience for wrestlers that are not regularly on the mats during competition. Due to the long season, having different grapplers ready to go at a moments notice could be critical to late season success.

Fellow Hokie Open title-holder Jake Faust will strap on his headgear looking for another strong performance. The redshirt sophomore went 4-0 at the Hokie Open, including a victory against two-time Pac 12 Champion and then-No. 4 Jim Wilson of Stanford in the 165-pound weight class. Faust’s dominance in the highest-ranked win of his career did not go unnoticed around the nation either—the Bellville, Ohio, native is now No. 16 in his weight class heading to Raleigh.

“[Jake]’s a thoroughbred without a doubt, and we knew coming in,” Lanham said. “We talked to him prior to that and we [said], ‘Hey, it’s scary how good you can be, and we sometimes hesitate in telling you that.’ And he’s like, ‘No Coach, you can tell me.’ I said, ‘Look, you can be a top-five guy.’ It’s not a surprise for us.”

With Faust leading the way for the Blue Devils, the squad will look to continue its fast start to the season. Although first-semester tournaments are launching pads to success down the road, the primary focus for Duke now is just improving the position it was in just two weeks early.

A national ranking is good for the program and titles are nice to have, but the hardware only matters in the spring—something that Lanham has emphasized in order to keep things in perspective.

“You can see the change in me when we’re a week away from ACCs and we’re a week ahead of nationals, because then for me, that’s when it counts,” Lanham said. “People are like, ‘Ah Coach, that’s a horrible thing to say, [with] all these duals and all that,’ but I’m like, ‘Look, until the sport changes, it doesn’t matter for me. Duals don’t matter. It’s about the end game and that’s ACCs and that’s nationals, and ACCs is to get to nationals.’ Nationals is the most important thing for me and to get our guys ready—yeah, we want to win along the way, but the main thing is what our place ahead of winning is improving.”


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