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Matt Finesilver takes home another first-place finish in Duke wrestling's Mountaineer Invitational

Matt Finesilver took home his second first-place finish in as many weeks last weekend.
Matt Finesilver took home his second first-place finish in as many weeks last weekend.

After a more-fortunate-than-not season opener, Duke came alive again this weekend to prove that it's a team for people to watch out for.

The Blue Devils hit the mats Sunday in Boone, N.C., where they competed at the Appalachian State-hosted Mountaineer Invitational. Along with the Mountaineers, Duke competed against Air Force, Gardner-Webb, Indiana, Kent State and No. 3 Arizona State to take home one first-place title and several other high rankings across weight brackets.

Taking the title for first was none other than redshirt senior captain Matt Finesilver. The wrestler has rounded up this placement in each of the two competitions held this season, and currently checks in as the seventh-ranked wrestler in his weight class nationally. Also finishing high was junior Jonah Niesenbaum, who took home second, as well as redshirt senior Josh Finesilver and redshirt sophomore Brandon LaRue who each finished with third-place victories, the former in the invitational and the latter in the open. 

Though he didn't manage to take first, Niesenbaum's placing was particularly notable in this competition as he competed against Arizona State's Cohlton Schultz, the national No. 4 wrestler in the 285-weight class. His performance had also changed dramatically since the last time he competed in this tournament in the 2019-20 season, when the junior heavyweight starter went 0-2.

"Just to come in second place in the semis beating a pretty tough kid out of Indiana... he put together a really good tournament," head coach Glen Lanham said. "He's had two good, good weeks of wrestling."

The Blue Devils have put in a plethora of work this year to see improvements. Many wrestlers stayed this summer to spend time in the gym and on the mats while also building chemistry. Lanham has continuously emphasized the importance of leadership this season, and with Duke's changes from last season to this one, Niesenbaum and Matt Finesilver aren't the only two wrestlers seeing significant developments in how well they play. 

Last competition, LaRue lost a quarter-final match in the 157-weight bracket to go unplaced, and last year, he only went 1-6 in competition. However, an executive decision made by the coaching staff this week to move him up to the 165-weight bracket seemed to be the right choice, with the adjustments made between the previous week to this one appearing to be all the difference between him and a higher ranking.

"We're hoping that will help him out, the jump up a weight," Lanham said. "I think it was something that he needed. He's growing, and we want to make sure we're doing the right thing so that he can wrestle a seven-minute match."

Some struggles occurred on the day for Duke. Josh Finesilver, who led the team last season and racked up a first-place title last match, noticeably went third in this competition. Yet, the captain's only loss was against No. 10 Jonathan Millner of Appalachian State, and he was able to bounce back quickly, taking third. 

"We wanted that match to get in the finals and wrestle people from Arizona State, but we just got to make some corrections there," Lanham said. "That's a winnable match for us. We'll see Millner again in the dual meet. So, we just got to make some corrections in two weeks capable of doing so."

For now, the Blue Devils will continue to work on toning up their skills to remain competitive. Even the tiniest improvements they've seen in between each match are enough to boost their morale in the next. There still aren't many wrestlers on the team placing yet, but it's early in the season; with Lanham's watchful eye, he doesn't seem concerned with the Blue Devils' overall performance yet. He and his wrestlers' primary focus, for now, will be to continue to grow.

“We don’t want to push the panic button on a lot of things right now,” Lanham said. “We’ll just continue to grow in our process. I think the main thing is we’re going to work on these guys being tentative on their feet. We’re going to hope to correct that this week to see more offensive attacks.”

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