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Tim Flynn: Rankings Are Nice for WVU, But Winning is Most Important



At the beginning of the 2021 season, West Virginia wrestling coach Tim Flynn intimated that he and the rest of the Mountaineer wrestlers were tired of losing. He said that they wanted to start winning right now. Flynn also mentioned that having a youthful roster isn’t reason enough to justify losing.

“My message is, I don’t want to wait to win,” Flynn said. “I try to tell our guys it’s just you, you’re out against one guy and then I’m out against one guy. I just keep trying to tell them they can win as freshmen…You’re allowed to win as freshmen. I see it happen every year. We have a pretty good feel for where we are. But I think they can win right away. We do trust the climb but I want to climb right now. We’re tired of losing.”

It would appear that the message has now come full circle. WVU currently sits at 7-3, 3-2 in the Big 12 as they prepare for the Cowboy Challenge this Sunday, Feb. 14, in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

The Mountaineers are winning, and they are doing it with a starting lineup that features just two upperclassmen, redshirt juniors Killian Cardinale and Noah Adams. Alongside the success of their veteran leaders, the Mountaineers are receiving critical contributions from freshmen Peyton Hall and Ryan Sullivan.

The Mountaineer quartet of Cardinale, Sullivan, Hall and Adams have received national attention this week. Tuesday, Feb. 9, all four had appeared in the latest FloWrestlingInterMatTrackwrestling, and The Open Mat polls.

Days later, the NCAA released its first NCAA Division I Wrestling Coaches Rank. Not surprisingly, WVU finds the same four starters listed in yet another poll.

But, do any of the polls actually matter? For Flynn, the answer to that question isn’t so simple. On one hand, these rankings have helped reinforce his primary message to his team that you can be good, you can win, and you can be ranked as a freshman.

“These kids are on their phones, they’re on the internet, they see the rankings, and I think it’s good for our team,” Flynn said Wednesday. “They know that Ryan Sullivan [or any other guy] is ranked, way before I ever see it. It’s good that they see it and think, ‘he’s working hard and has risen this far, why can’t I be that guy [too]?’…It takes one good weekend or two good weekends and you can be top-10 in the country. In two or three weeks you can change your spot.”

Flynn also acknowledged that although he thinks his team’s success in the national polls has been beneficial, you can’t get put too much stock in what the rankers think. There is a delicate balance between acknowledging the existence of national accolades and putting any true emphasis on them.

“At the end of the day, your ranking doesn’t matter,” Flynn said. “When you step on the mat, you still have to win. On the other hand, we want to finish No. 1, so I think it’s good that they want to climb the ladder. That said, I’m not studying the rankings. I don’t wait for them to come out.

“Noah Adams lost a match, whether he is ranked No. 1 or not, I feel he is the best guy in the country,” Flynn continued. “When he competes well, I think he has the chance to win the national championship. That’s true whether he is ranked No. 1 or No. 100. [The rankings] can be used both ways.”

Looking ahead, the Cowboy Challenge will likely be WVU’s toughest task of the 2021 regular season. There will be a plethora of nationally ranked wrestlers competing in Stillwater. Per the first Coaches Ranking on Feb. 7, there could be as many as 31 nationally ranked competitors: Missouri (10), Oklahoma State (9), Wyoming (8), West Virginia (4).

“Our sport is unique because it’s an individual sport with a team component, but the better the individual does, the better the team does,” Flynn continued. “That’s not the same in team sports. Someone can go out and score a bunch of points, but maybe the team doesn’t do as well. It’s different in wrestling. These guys have been focused on themselves for a while. They are trying to improve themselves to win a national championship, and while they are doing that, they help the team win. We need a tournament though just to get a different feel.”

While time will tell how the Mountaineer grapplers will fare in Stillwater, every wrestler dawning the Old Gold and Blue – whether currently ranked or currently unranked will have to follow their coach’s advice: Just go out on the mat and win. Rankings don’t matter.

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