After two straight seasons without a win, Duke improved mightily last season, finishing the year 7-10. However, the Blue Devils struggled as a team in the postseason, finishing in last at the ACC Championships and 48th out of 69 teams at the NCAA Championships. With Matt Finesilver transferring to Michigan and Josh Finesilver graduating, the program lost its two best grapplers. The brothers were the only members of the team to qualify for the NCAA Championships last season, and Matt was just two wins shy of All-American status.
The Blue Devils now turn to senior captains Jonah Niesenbaum and Gabe Dinette for much-needed leadership to fill the void left behind. Junior Logan Agin had an excellent summer and will look to score points for Duke. The team also added graduate transfer Jarred Papcsy from N.C. State, who provides excellent talent, experience and mentorship for the squad’s five new freshmen, two of whom are projected to start for the Blue Devils in Saturday’s opening matches against American, Maryland and Bloomsburg.
“We’ve got more parity, more balance,” said head coach Glen Lanham. “We have a lot of guys that are capable of really doing a great job.”
Expect the regular season to be tough once more for Duke, as four programs in the ACC—N.C. State, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Pittsburgh—are ranked. As the Blue Devils enter the post-Finesilver era, wins could be few and far between. However, all eyes are set on the postseason, in which great individual performances could reap massive rewards.
“We kind of look at … our match season just as preparation,” said Lanham. “The big picture is ACC and nationals. That’s where … we really want focus.”
New wrestlers to watch: Gaetano Console, Nick Tattini
Freshmen Gaetano Console and Nick Tattini will get a taste of NCAA action early, as both are projected to start Saturday in Duke’s triple-header. Console, wrestling at 165 pounds from Barrington Hills, Ill., was a two-time IHSA 2A regional champion at St. Viator and finished fourth at the Illinois State Championships in 2021. Lanham plans to use Console for his allotted five meets while Gabe Dinette recovers from injury, allowing Console to gain collegiate experience without burning his redshirt.
Tattini is a two-time sectional champion from Crown Point, Ind. He also scored runner-up placements at the Al Smith Invitational and Carnahan Memorial. Look for both freshmen, thrust into high-leverage situations early, to make the most of their opportunities.
Returning wrestler to watch: Jonah Niesenbaum
Jonah Niesenbaum had an impressive 2021 campaign, finishing his junior season with an overall record of 16-11. He placed fifth at the Battle of the Citadel and second at the Mountaineer Invitational, with key wins over talented wrestlers from Gardner-Webb and Indiana.
“He’s had a really good offseason,” Lanham said of Niesenbaum. “He’s going to be that guy that … comes out of nowhere.”
Niesenbaum is ranked 25th in the nation in his weight class by FloWrestling, the only man on the roster to earn such an honor. For Duke to pull out victories, the Blue Devils need Niesenbaum to capitalize on his momentum and put forth strong showings day in and day out.
Most anticipated matchup: ACC Championships, March 5
On campus, it is widely known that March is Duke’s month to shine, and it is no different in wrestling. After a long season, the Blue Devils will have a chance to earn an NCAA Championship bid contingent upon their performance at this meet. Although no wrestler on the current roster has qualified for nationals, Duke has sent at least one wrestler to the national event for the last 14 years. The Blue Devils will hope to continue this streak in Raleigh, N.C., against the best of the ACC. A good individual day for any Blue Devil could earn them a trip to Tulsa, Okla., and a shot at becoming the program’s sixth NCAA All-American.
Niesenbaum and Dinette lead with confidence, and the juniors, led by Agin at 125 pounds, perform better than expected. Duke wins some of its nonconference meets and finds a way to eke out a win in ACC play, possibly against Virginia. At the ACC Championships, the Blue Devils put up excellent individual performances and extend the NCAA appearance streak to 15 years.
“I could see us qualifying anywhere from three to four guys,” Lanham said of nationals. “I feel comfortable with that number.”
The shoes left by the Finesilver brothers prove difficult to fill. Duke struggles to find points, dropping most—if not all—of its out-of-conference matches and gets swept handily in ACC play. Nobody quite has the individual effort to earn an individual NCAA bid, and Duke looks towards next season as the team grows older and stronger.
4-13, 6th at ACC Championships, 38th at NCAA Championships
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