MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — One of the toughest stretches of opponents West Virginia has encountered under head coach Tim Flynn has officially come to an end.
Sunday afternoon’s 20-12 loss to No. 14 Northern Iowa closed a string of three consecutive teams the Mountaineers faced that were ranked within the Top 15 in the country. West Virginia (7-5, 1-5) dropped four consecutive matches, all in the Big 12.
Though the results were not ideal, Flynn saw flashes of potential from his group, and is pleased with the effort the Mountaineers have given.
“You never wanna lose, but our guys are competing,” Flynn said. “We keep making the right steps. That’s a really solid Northern Iowa team we faced (Sunday). We’re getting there.”
The Mountaineers now have four days to prepare for their final Big 12 dual meet of the year. West Virginia will host Air Force at 7 p.m. Friday inside the WVU Coliseum, with the hopes of ending conference competition on a high note before having two non-conference matchups to end the regular season.
Though Air Force will be the first unranked team West Virginia has seen in nearly a month, the Falcons will be hard to overlook.
After matching West Virginia by winning seven of its first eight contests, Air Force enters the meet at 7-3 overall (3-3 in the Big 12), having lost back-to-back matches to ranked opponents No. 19 South Dakota State and No. 13 North Dakota State.
The Falcons also received five votes in last week’s NWCA Division I Coaches Poll and are undefeated on the road this season.
“If we’re favored, it’s the same thing like if Northern Iowa was favored,” Flynn said. “One match can go the wrong way and the whole thing can be lost. We’re not strong enough yet that we can’t bring our ‘A’ game. We need to be sharp.”
To be in top form, West Virginia will need to first get back to full health.
The Mountaineers wrestled Sunday’s meet without 197-pound starter Austin Cooley. Heavyweight Michael Wolfgram battled through a knee injury to compete in his match. Sam Hillegas also showed discomfort during his 149-pound bout.
Wolfgram gained praise from Flynn for his performance, as the redshirt junior took down Northern Iowa’s No. 12 ranked Tyrell Gordon by a 7-4 decision in the final match of the day.
“He kept his head and stayed strong,” Flynn said of Wolfgram. “A lot of times kids will panic being in his situation, but he did a nice job. He’s been banged up. I was gonna put in (Leo) Muzika, but he said he wanted to go. He beat the tar out of the 12th ranked guy.”
While Wolfgram was on the mat, it was the actions of the Mountaineers bench that also caught the attention of Flynn.
During the bout, Wolfgram had three takedowns waved off after official review, as well as four pauses due to Gordon forcing a blood stoppage. At least 10 members of the West Virginia roster were yelling in support of Wolfgram throughout the entire stretch, even though Northern Iowa had already sealed the meet victory during the prior match.
Flynn said this type of mindset will also be key if the Mountaineers want to get back in the win column.
“We haven’t always had that (heart),” Flynn said. “Our kids are close, and we want to win. They’re starting to take pride in what we’re doing. It’s a great thing.”
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