It didn't end the way they wanted, but the Blue Devils didn't leave completely unsatisfied.
After notching an 0-5 conference record, the Blue Devils headed to Charlottesville, Va., for a chance at redemption at the ACC Championships March 6. However, the group returned to Durham nearly empty-handed, finishing with 11 points and in sixth, behind N.C. State, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, North Carolina and Virginia, respectively. Though the Blue Devils didn't finish with a victory or a higher placement than they have seen in recent years, the Blue Devils had some success on their side, sending two wrestlers to NCAA Championships beginning Thursday.
"Obviously, you want to finish a little higher," head coach Glen Lanham said. "We had some guys that were in pretty good opportunities. I think we could have probably got at least two more guys out [placing to compete in NCAA Championships] for a total of four… There's a lot of teams that didn't get any [wrestlers placed]. So I'm pretty satisfied with at least getting two guys to the show that I think can do some good things out there."
Duke stars Josh Finesilver and Matt Finesilver led the team as the singular Blue Devils both placed in their respective brackets. Each weight-bracket kicked off the competition with a quarterfinal. In the 174-pound quarterfinal, No. 4-seed Matt took down No. 5-seed Justin Phillips of Virginia in a stunning 12-0 major decision. However, Matt did not see success against No. 1-seed Clay Lautt of North Carolina, who had a narrow 3-2 decision on the Blue Devil. Matt ended the day with a fourth-place ranking, defeating his opposition in the consolation semifinal before falling to No. 2-seed Hayden Hilday of N.C. State—the fourth-ranked wrestler in the weight bracket nationally—in a tight 7-6 decision.
In the 149-pound quarterfinal, No. 3-seed Josh defeated Pittsburgh's Dan Mancini in a tight 11-10 decision before falling to No. 2-seed Bryce Andonian of Virginia Tech. Josh went on to defeat his opponent in the consolation semifinal, securing at least a fourth-place finish. But with the redshirt senior battling a stomach virus, he lost the third-place match on a medical forfeit to No. 4-seed Zach Sherman of North Carolina, an opponent he had beaten when the Blue Devils (7-10, 0-5) and Tar Heels met in January.
"We just were really trying to get him to that placement match, where he could get that automatic qualifier," Lanham said. "And then we decided the best thing to do was to pull him from the tournament. I mean, he just wrestled—he just really gutted it out. It was a top performance for him because he wasn't able to eat or drink really too much that whole week; he couldn't hold it down."
The two fourth-place finishes and NCAA qualifications for the Finesilver brothers mark the fourth year that Josh has qualified and Matt's third year, as he was injured for the 2020-21 season. The twins' older brother, Mitch, also qualified for NCAA Championships four times in his Duke career.
"They're in some definitely rarefied air when it comes to just being able to get to the tournament—not a lot of people are able to do that," Lanham said. "And so they're so they have a really great opportunity now, not just to get to the tournament, but to get on top of the podium … They've been great leaders for our program, they've done the right things, they live the right way—they’ve been just an asset to not just athletics, but Duke in general. I mean, I feel like they are [the example] when you talk about what a student-athlete should represent, when it comes to University, both of those guys have done it athletically and academically."
Both Finesilver brothers have an extra year of eligibility, but it is unclear whether they will return to Duke yet for their final year because of other graduate school options available to them. With that in mind, the national-level tournament holds an extra level of significance to the team and the brother's contribution to the program over the years.
"You want to get to the tournament, that is the ultimate goal to be a national champion and All-American, and if you're not there, obviously, you can't do it … But what's great about it is that we have six of our 10 starters that are here [in Durham] helping Matt and Josh get ready for the national tournament," Lanham said. "So that's a huge thing especially when it's spring break, and you could go home and your season's over, and you're not going to be able to wrestle at the national tournament. But we have guys sticking out, just wanting to help teammates get better."
Among the group that stayed to help the Finesilver brothers prepare is 141-pound bracket starter Patrick Rowland, heavyweight starter Jonah Niesenbaum, 184-pound starter Vincent Baker and 133-pound starter Drake Doolittle.
"It's great to see that. This shows how much they not only care for themselves getting better, but they want to focus on their teammates being able to do the best they can," Lanham said. "So that's awesome to see. And it just sets the page of tone for next year."
Josh and Matt will travel to Detroit to represent the Blue Devils at NCAA Championships Thursday through Saturday to close out Duke's season.
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