Despite Third Straight Loss, WVU Wrestlers Holding Strong Mindset for Northern Iowa
MORGANTOWN, W.Va.— West Virginia is currently fighting through one of the toughest stretches of teams it has seen on its schedule in the past five years under coach Tim Flynn.
The Mountaineers were bested by No. 12 Oklahoma State on Jan. 20 and edged by No. 3 Iowa State Friday night after the Cyclones used a late run in the heavyweights to claim the win.
Flynn acknowledged West Virginia’s effort in the loss, but also noted the Mountaineers had the opportunity to pull off the upset.
“I think we had our chances against a top three team,” Flynn said. “I told the team that (Iowa State’s) a really good team, and we’re a good team. If we were a really good team, we might’ve got that one. We had our chances; 157 was close, heavyweight was close. You win those matches and you can knock them off, but, our effort was good.”
West Virginia held a 10-0 advantage after three bouts before Sam Hillegas was defeated via major decision by No. 9 Paniro Johnson at 149 pounds. At 157, Alex Hornfeck fell to Iowa State’s Jason Kraisser 5-3 after being tied going into the third period.
The Cyclones took three of the next four matches to lead 17-13 going into the heavyweight bout. With the chance for a come-from-behind victory, West Virginia’s Michael Wolfgram fell to Sam Schuyler 4-2.
“We gotta be able to make some in-match adjustments,” Flynn said of his team’s performance against the Cyclones. “Hillegas wrestled from an open position on a guy that was explosive, so we had to keep trying to get a hold of him. (Austin) Cooley was in a similar position (at 197 pounds). We’ll have time to look at the matches, analyze, fix and hopefully wrestle a little better on Sunday.”
Having now dropped three straight dual meets after winning seven of its first eight, West Virginia is slated to take on No. 14 Northern Iowa, marking three straight opponents ranked within the Top 15 in the country.
The Panthers (6-3, 4-2 Big 12) are coming off a 44-0 shutout victory over California Baptist Friday night. All three of Northern Iowa’s losses were to teams ranked in the Top 10 at the time of the match — North Carolina State, Missouri and Oklahoma State.
Northern Iowa also upset then-No. 3 Ohio State on Dec. 19.
“We’re wrestling some very tough teams,” Mountaineers senior Killian Cardinale said. “Coach talks about it all the time that they’re not gonna roll over for us, no matter who you’re wrestling. It’s always gonna be a fight.”
Being the most veteran member of the Mountaineers roster, Cardinale, now in his sixth year with the program, understands that any team can be dropped on any night.
Cardinale, who is undefeated at 9-0 on the season, helped spark a win over then-No. 21 Pitt on Jan. 8, which was West Virginia’s first victory over a ranked opponent in two years. He then watched his freshman teammate Jordan Titus upset Cole Matthews, one of the top wrestlers in the country at 141 pounds.
“It doesn’t matter what number is next to the wrestler’s name or what number is next to the team name,” Cardinale said. “Rankings don’t mean anything. That’s what’s helped me a lot. It’s all about discipline and consistency on the mat.”
Exhibiting this type of mindset will be key on Sunday for the Mountaineers, who dropped to a combined 3-25 record against ranked opponents under Flynn following the loss to Iowa State.
Flynn said he hopes his wrestlers will find extra motivation with the knowledge of competing against another top team, as well as possibly having another big crowd fill the seats inside the WVU Coliseum.
Friday’s official attendance was announced at 1,494, the third-largest in program history.
“It’s huge for the team,” Flynn said. “It’s good that we had a nice crowd, and people will keep coming back if you wrestle hard. People love wrestling. We just have to keep putting a good product out there.
“It’s like every coach of every sport, you still don’t wanna lose, but when you’re in a heater with the No. 3 team in the country, we’re getting there.”