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Duke wrestling drops match to North Carolina, N.C. State

Redshirt senior Josh Finesilver has proven he is one of the top wrestlers in the conference and country this season.
Redshirt senior Josh Finesilver has proven he is one of the top wrestlers in the conference and country this season.

Starting the conference leg of their season with two losses, it’s clear that the Blue Devils must carve a new path to victory before competing in the ACC Championships.

Duke opened its conference slate Jan. 21 against No. 20 North Carolina, taking the short 11-mile drive to Chapel Hill for duals. Though the Blue Devils had potential to register some quality wins, as they sported a 6-5 record ahead of their date the Tar Heels, the group fell 29-6. Returning to the floor again for competition at Cameron Indoor Stadium Jan. 28, Duke planned to register some victories to even out its win percentage but ultimately faced its most challenging loss of the season. When all was said and done, No. 5 N.C. State took down Duke 43-0.

“Right now, we’re in the process of learning. I don’t put too much emphasis on dual meet outcomes. I just want to see our guys improve. It’s not easy—it doesn’t get any easier in the ACC,” head coach Glen Lanham said. “.... There’s a lot of matches where you can grow as a wrestler, where you can get great experience. And you can use that experience when it comes to the ACC tournament. So that’s my mindset. I’m not going to read too much into these matches.”

With the losses this weekend, and a 22-12 upset by Appalachian State several weeks before conference play commenced, the Blue Devils have not seen a whole team victory in duals since December. In the last wins that Duke clinched Dec. 19, the group ran through their three visiting program opponents by defeating them all in victory margins of 20 or more. 

With such a drastic change in the numbers that the Blue Devils have seen as of late, it’s reasonable that some spectators may assume that the group has fallen off the stride they rode into the season with. However, Duke has competed with some of the top collegiate wrestlers in the nation in these two matches. 

“They out-toughed us in every position, and that shouldn’t happen because we trained better than that. I think when our guys got in tough situations, and got kind fatigued, we fell back on that,” Lanham said. “I felt like when when they got tough with us, we didn't get tough back, and in wrestling, you got to be able to do that.”

Leading the Blue Devils as the only wrestlers contributing to the score against the Tar Heels were Josh Finesilver and Jonah Niesenbaum. Finesilver, the starter in the 149-weight bracket, defeated his opponent Zach Sherman 3-1 in sudden victory. Representing the 285-pound bracket, Niesenbaum also took down his Tar Heel foe, Brandon Whitman, in a 3-1 sudden victory. 

The rest of the Blue Devils competing in the match were all defeated, including star No. 13 Matt Finesilver, who fell to Carolina’s then-No. 16 Clay Lautt in an 8-5 decision. The most difficult losses were through the various major decisions and falls.

Coming off their upset into the following weekend, the Blue Devils did their best to regroup in the meantime but ultimately were defeated in their most challenging contest thus far. The group they competed against, local rivals N.C. State, took 10 victories on the day, including a forfeit in the 141-pound weight bracket. Some of the most brutal losses for Duke included 17-2 and 19-4 technical falls. 

However, despite finishing the day defeated in every bracket, one Blue Devil put on a nearly victorious performance—Josh Finesilver. In the best execution of any athlete on the Duke roster, the redshirt senior captain lost to N.C. State’s Tariq Wilson in just a 4-3 decision. Though he took the loss, he put up a solid fight and gave Wilson a run for his money. With that, he still has a 22-3 record—the best slate of any Duke athlete in years.

“I think [Finesilver’s performance against Wilson] says a lot. I mean, we had that match in the hand up into the last 25 seconds, when we stopped doing what we were doing for the last for the last six minutes,” Lanham said. “Even in a loss, I feel like you can get something positive out of that. And I felt like [that match] has to tell Josh that he is an elite wrestler capable of being a top-three wrestler in the country.”

With a competitor such as Finesilver leading the team right now, the Blue Devils are headed in the right direction. They may not have recent triumphs, but they have also been competing against several of the nation’s top wrestlers. Four more duals meets remain for Duke, and with that a checklist of areas to improve.

“We have to get our conditioning to a championship caliber conditioning,” Lanham said. “....If you can make those leaps, it can make your program, it can boost your program by leaps and bounds. And that's kind of what we're doing right now. There's not a lot that we need to work on. But what we do need to work on—it's glaring. So we got to show up in order to be successful.”

The Blue Devils next take on Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., Friday night. 


Ana Young | Assistant Blue Zone Editor

Ana Young is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle’s 118th volume.

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