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'Peaks and valleys': Niesenbaum's victory headlines Duke wrestling's performance at Battle at The Citadel

Jonah Niesenbaum emerged victorious in Charleston, S.C.
Jonah Niesenbaum emerged victorious in Charleston, S.C.

After a rough start, there is nowhere to go but up. 

The Blue Devils did just that as they rebounded from last week’s meet in College Park, Md. Duke senior Jonah Niesenbaum placed first in the heavyweight division at the Battle at the Citadel in Charleston, S.C., with fellow Blue Devils Login Agin (125 pounds) and Drake Doolittle (133 pounds) both placing third, accompanied by Christian Colman (133 pounds) placing fourth. 

“The guys wrestled hard, our shape looks good … [our] coaching strategy changed a little bit because you might be working with someone who you really don't work with that much,” said head coach Glen Lanham. “We just have to hone in on a couple of things that could make some really big gains for us.”

Colman, who wrestled at 141 pounds last weekend, weighed in at 133 pounds Sunday. Colman and Doolittle went head to head in the 133-pound division, fighting for third place. Ultimately, Doolittle defeated his teammate to secure third place. 

Niesenbaum had two major decisions against Truett McConnell and American, winning 14-3 and 13-4, respectively. The Allentown, Pa., native tied it up with a 3-0 winning run in a 4-1 decision against Southeastern wrestler Gage Braun.

While the four Blue Devils placed this weekend, it was the other side of the coin for many of the other Blue Devils, with many falling in the round of 16. Redshirt junior Patrick Rowland (149 pounds) was pinned by Jack Tangen of Lander College. Fellow junior Conor Becker (174 pounds) had a strong run, defeating Brett Sanderlin of Davidson but falling to Chattanooga (10-4) and Southeastern (6-2).   

This week’s meet was a drastic change for Duke, but the Blue Devils are expecting a bigger change next year as heavyweight Niesenbaum will depart from Duke. As the gap emerges for Duke, so are possible replacements. One unforeseen replacement for the senior is freshman Connor Barket, who is typically in the 197-pound division yet wrestled at 285 pounds this weekend. 

“We were trying to cut him a lot of weight to make him 197 last week …  I just didn't see the purpose of him continuing to cut weight when we don't see him wrestling that weight next year,” Lanham said. “Our ultimate goal is to move him up to heavyweight.”

The freshman did not excel against his heavier opponents, losing 10-2 in the round of 16 against Braun to begin his heavyweight career. The change seems reasonable, as the Blue Devils have no other heavyweights rostered with Niesenbaum’s graduation approaching. 

This quick decision by Lanham comes after a long summer and fall of preparation for the fall season.

“We're non-scholarship it has to be more voluntary … guys just can't take a summer school class and train,” Lanham said.​​ “Our guys have to find a way to support themselves, and either that's through getting internships, or saving up enough that summer prior.”

After finding success at the Battle at the Citadel, the Blue Devils next compete Sunday at the Keystone Classic.

“Keystone will be a tough tournament, a tougher tournament, there are more Division I colleges there … It's peaks and valleys for us right now. We're just trying to get them tough competition, almost have them come to a point of failure, and then make corrections and then move on,” Lanham said. 

Luke Jovanovic contributed reporting.


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