Duke faced its toughest test of the season last week. It proved to be just as difficult as expected.
The Blue Devils lost both duals this week against ranked opponents. The first defeat came Tuesday in Boone, N.C., as No. 19 Appalachian State cruised to a 42-3 win. Duke then was defeated in its second ACC contest of the season Friday, losing to N.C. State 46-3. Duke seemed passive, allowing opponents to dictate the tempo of matches.
“[We] waited on them to do basically everything and didn’t feel confident in the matches,” said head coach Glen Lanham. “I would rather lose doing our best stuff than sit back and not do anything.”
The vast majority of the matches were uncompetitive. Against Appalachian State (8-2), the Blue Devils (3-8, 0-2 in the ACC) lost three matches by fall and five matches via major decision. They fared worse against N.C. State (11-1, 1-1), losing five matches by fall and two matches by major decision. Overall, Duke finished the week with an individual match record of 2-18, with more pins suffered (six) than wins.
“We had some falls that were just unacceptable,” said Lanham of the struggles. “Going out there and getting pinned is not a good thing. A lot of the positions we got caught in we repeatedly drilled over and over.”
Senior captain Jonah Niesenbaum served as the lone highlight of the week, continuing his amazing ascent in the heavyweight division. He captured the two Blue Devil victories, knocking off Triston Norris of Appalachian State 3-2 and Tyrie Houghton of N.C. State 5-4. With four duals remaining before the ACC Championships, Niesenbaum, now ranked 22nd in the nation according to Intermat, looks primed to make waves in the postseason.
“I definitely see [Niesenbaum] as one of the top heavyweights in the ACC no doubt,” Lanham said. “He’s got a great opportunity to win if he keeps improving and I think he will.”
After a competitive debut at 133 pounds for Logan Agin against North Carolina, the redshirt junior suffered defeats in both of his matches, losing via major decision to Ethan Oakley of Appalachian State and by technical fall to Kai Orine of N.C. State. Seemingly overmatched at the heavier weight, a tough decision awaits Agin and the coaching staff. Agin’s reluctance to cut weight combined with the return of Drake Doolittle from injury, who started the season at 133 pounds, leaves the lineup in flux once more.
“[Agin] thinks [his struggles are] a weight issue. I don’t know if it is or not. We’re not very big out there,” Lanham said. “Sometimes you just get guys that are too big and too strong. It doesn’t matter what your technique is, you just can't beat them. If [Agin] doesn’t go down, there’s going to be a wrestle-off [for the starting spot].”
All of this impacts grappler Ethan Grimminger, who stepped into the starting lineup at 125 pounds in Agin’s place just a few weeks ago. Although he has gained valuable experience, the freshman is winless in his four matches.
“That conversation at the moment we’re having with [Agin is] to make sure he understands the magnitude of if he decides to cut [this decision] to the last minute. I don’t want to burn Ethan’s redshirt for that,” Lanham said.
The Blue Devils forfeited at 174 pounds for both duals, with no wrestler available to grapple. With an injury to Conor Becker and freshman Gaetano Console having already used his fifth weigh-in allowed under the new redshirt rules, Lanham’s hands seem tied for the foreseeable future.
“We’re just trying to figure out how we can get [Becker] back healthy in time. I don’t know if we’re gonna get him back. It may be a situation where we continue [to forfeit],” Lanham said.
Duke sets up shop in Card Gym to welcome ACC rival Virginia Tech on Friday. The hope remains that the Blue Devils can find a way to grapple competitively again.
“We got to see that tenacity from more guys who want to win and compete in every situation,” emphasized Lanham. “We got to start rising to the occasion at some of these matches. Before you know it, it’s going to be ACC time. And we have to be ready.”
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