Finishing its non-conference slate this week, Duke's season is nearing a successful close.
The Blue Devils competed three times over eight days, facing a win and two losses to bring themselves up to a 7-9 record, which also marks the most victories the team has had since the 2014-15 season. The Blue Devils began the long week Feb. 4 with a 42-3 loss in Blacksburg, Va., to then-No. 10 Virginia Tech. Returning to compete five days later against Gardner-Webb Feb. 9, the group clinched an 18-16 victory. However, Duke fell Saturday 30-9 to Virginia as it hosted at Cameron Indoor Stadium for the first time in two weeks.
“Like any team, we got to stay healthy,” head coach Glen Lanham said. “Our starters have to stay healthy. We’ve got to as coaches—make sure that we’re doing the right things to keep them healthy, not grinding them down. We got to make sure that they’re ready for ACC [Championships in three weeks].”
The Blue Devils did precisely that on the mats this past week. The group put forth a solid effort, though they did not always get the desired results. No singular wrestler went through the three competitions unscathed, yet there were some memorable wins throughout.
Although Duke didn’t see a complete improvement from its effort against then-No. 5 N.C. State, which it lost to 43-0 a week before competing against Virginia Tech, there was still a win on its side. Wade Unger, who competes in the 157-pound bracket, was Duke’s sole victor, taking down the 21st-ranked Connor Brady in a close 4-3 decision.
“I think Wade’s been really good. For a guy who was off all last year with injuries and now coming back and into his own—it’s been really good to see the hard work he’s putting in, and the effort on the mat is starting to pay off,” Lanham said. “We knew he was going to have a good match, but he had a great week of practice in preparation for the match, so we felt pretty confident of him going in that he could win.”
On Wednesday, Unger continued that successful stride as the Blue Devils traveled to Boiling Springs, N.C., to compete with the Runnin’ Bulldogs. Finishing with a 6-3 decision on Gardner-Webb’s Taylor Parks, he proved his versatility when it came to finding his edge with different opponents.
Four of the Montvale, N.J., native’s teammates also defeated their Gardner-Webb opponents, with 18 points coming from wins from Unger, Josh Finesilver, Matt Finesilver, Kaden Russell and Jonah Niesenbaum. The Finesilver brothers took victories by the most significant margin of any of the Blue Devils—Josh had a 16-point margin in his major decision and Matt won by a 10-point major decision. Russell, the 197-pound weight bracket representative, and Niesenbaum, the 285-pound weight bracket starter, finished the meet with decisions, going a respective 13-8 and 8-3 against their opponents.
“We’ve got to concentrate more on building depth,” Lanham said on the five performers who emerged triumphantly. “The level between the [starter and the second] wrestler has to close a little bit so we can be a little bit more successful when we have guys out.”
The Blue Devils struggled with their depth as they took on Virginia Friday, with only the Finesilver brothers finding ways to beat their opponents. Matt Finesilver delivered a 6-0 decision against Virginia’s Justin Phillips to give Duke three points. Josh Finesilver's performance was arguably the best of the night, handing Jarod Verkleeren a fall after 6:36 minutes of battle to provide Duke with the other six points.
After Matt Finesilver's dual match, he leaned to his teammates to stand up as a captain and give advice.
“He talked about just trusting his training and trusting what the coaches were saying mid-match. And I think that that’s something that we struggle with as a team. We don’t want to match adjustments of something that we need to be better at,” Lanham said.
“I think that by Matt saying that—that he struggled with [trust], and [then] had success when he started to listen to what the coach was saying during the match….we had a lot of guys perk up when they heard that."
The Blue Devils will close out their regular season Friday against Pittsburgh at home.
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