The most famous quote from former Iowa State wrestler, two-time NCAA national champion and one of the greats of collegiate wrestling, Dan Gable, came after his gold medal win at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Gable shut down each of his opponents in his path to the top and once said about the experience, “Gold medals aren’t really made of gold. They’re made of sweat, determination and a hard-to-find alloy called guts.”
Duke competed in the NCAA tournament Thursday and Friday in Detroit, only having two representatives from the team in compete in the field. Though neither of the Finesilver brothers finished with gold medals to bring home or a high placing in the tournament, their performances to get them where they did finish certainly took sweat, determination and guts.
Twin redshirt seniors Josh and Matt Finesilver, the Blue Devils’ starters for the 149-pound and 174-pound brackets, competed in both days of the tournament and furthered Duke’s tradition of at least sending one wrestler each year to compete for the national title. The Blue Devils’ tied for 48th out of 69 schools, with both brothers getting to the round of 16 in their respective brackets before bowing out.
“I just told them just to relax. Just try and don’t wrestle tight out there—don’t wrestle like you don’t belong and trust your training—just let it fly,” head coach Glen Lanham said about their performances. “At the end of the day, you’re pleased with them, they gave the best effort that they could.... Most of the people come away from that tournament and there’s gonna be disappointment.”
The brothers finished with two of the best records of any Blue Devil in program history. With Matt recording two wins and Josh registering one this weekend, they ended their seasons at a respective 29 and 28 victories. Matt closes out the year at 78-26 while Josh closes with a 79-45 record.
With a crowd of Duke fans in the stands, including a handful of Blue Devil wrestling alumni and a surprise showing from their older brothers, former Duke stars Mitch and Zach, the brothers had nothing to lose, even if they did face defeat.
The Blue Devil duo started their respective runs in the competition Thursday with the 11th-seeded Josh taking down Northwestern’s Yahya Thomas in a 13-10 decision and 13th-seeded Matt also emerging victorious, taking down Wyoming’s Hayden Hastings in a 5-3 decision. Both suffered losses in their Thursday night matches, with Josh falling in a 19-7 major decision to Wisconsin’s Austin Gomez and Matt falling to N.C. State's Hayden Hidlay in a 13-5 major decision.
They got redemption arcs in wrestle backs on Friday. Josh fell in his first competition in an 8-4 decision to Northern Iowa’s Colin Realbuto. Matt powered through his first match, defeating Cornell’s Chris Foca in a fall after 5:17 in the air before getting beaten by Mizzou’s Peyton Mocco in a very tight and upsetting 2-1 decision.
“It was a tough match to watch because I felt like Matt did everything possible to win that. I mean—just some of the calls, but I don’t like to complain about officiating a lot, but if you have two guys that have that equal caliber and officiating is not what needs to be—it can go south and I felt like there were a few calls that should have gone our way, but didn’t,” Josh Finesilver said about the consolation match. “I think Matt did everything in his power to win that match. But unfortunately he didn’t get it.”
And after that match, it was over. Duke got its place and went on to recognize the Finesilvers' success this season in the tournament with an all-team and friends-and-family-of-the-team social. But there was still some disappointment in the way it ended, with the goal of the team having an All-American a dream unrealized.
“I think that that’s something that they’ve wanted to accomplish for themselves and for Duke wrestling and for the community,” Lanham said. “But at the end of the day, they didn’t get that done, but they did everything possible to get that done, they worked very hard, and put in the effort and put in the work.”
The Finesilver brothers are graduating in May, and it’s not yet determined whether they are staying for another season despite their remaining year of eligibility. If they don’t come back, a new era of Duke wrestling comes about. Either way, with the few weeks left until the year ends, the team will continue to work and, as Lanham put it, “focus on what we saw at nationals and what our guys need to get there and then get on top of the podium.”
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