MORGANTOWN, WVa.— With the return of eight starters from last year, WVU wrestling came into this season with high expectations of building off a 10-5 dual meet record in 2022-23.
Though the Mountaineers needed to fill just one vacated spot in the lineup, it was quite a loss to replace. Killian Cardinale, a two-time All-American at 125 pounds, graduated in May.
However, sixth-year head coach Tim Flynn may have quickly found a replacement in junior newcomer Jett Strickenberger.
Strickenberger transferred to West Virginia prior to the fall semester from Northwest Kansas Technical College and has immediately made an impact, starting his Mountaineers career by winning the 125-pound championship at the Southeast Open on Nov. 4.
“I’m definitely here to make a name for myself,” Strickenberger said. “I don’t look at it as that I have big shoes to fill, though. Granted, Killian was a great, even outstanding wrestler at 125 pounds. But, I want to leave my own mark. I want everyone to see me as a great 125-pound wrestler as well.”
Strickenberger pinned Virginia’s Kyle Montaperto in the semifinal round before defeating No. 14 ranked Brandon Kaylor of Oregon State, a 2022 All-American and Pac-12 champion, in the title bout. He secured the go-ahead takedown in the closing seconds of the first overtime period to claim a 4-1 victory.
For his performance, No. 24 ranked Strickenberger was named the Big 12 Co-Wrestler of the Week on Nov. 7.
The Colorado Springs native became the 15th Mountaineer to be named Wrestler of the Week and joined two-time All-American Zeke Moisey in 2015 as the only West Virginia wrestlers to earn the award at 125 pounds.
“This is still definitely going to be a lot harder wrestling than I’ve seen before,” Strickenberger said. “I’m expecting every match to be a banger. I’m not here to wrestle average people. I’m expecting the best every match, so that’s how I have to treat it.”
Strickenberger then carried his fast start into Sunday’s Mountaineer Quad, opening his dual meet season with three lopsided victories.
He claimed a 20-4 technical fall win over Kent State’s Nico Calallo, defeated Cleveland State’s Nick Molchak by major decision 17-9 and pinned Logan Agin of Duke in 1:34.
“I definitely feel like Jett is a better wrestler when he wrestles better guys,” Flynn said. “He looked sharp. The kid from Duke he wrestled is pretty solid.”
Joining Strickenberger as a new cog in the starting lineup is true freshman Ty Watters at 149 pounds, who is already ranked No. 18 in his class.
⭐️ Athlete of the Week, presented by @WVUApartments
— WVU Sports (@WVUSports) November 13, 2023
After claiming two PIAA state championships and a 98-8 career record at West Allegheny High School, Watters was thrown into the fire for the Mountaineers right from the start, and made his presence felt.
Watters rattled off four consecutive victories at the Southeast Open before falling to No. 4 ranked Caleb Henson of Virginia Tech to finish runner-up.
He then pinned all three of his opponents on Sunday, with Watters’ longest match going just 38 seconds into the second period.
“I was very prepared coming into Sunday,” Watters said. “Coach (Mitchell) Port talks to me a lot and always reassures me with everything. It’s awesome having all of the coaches in my corner telling me what to expect and getting me ready to the best of my ability.”
Flynn spoke very highly of Watters following the Mountaineer Quad, noting that debuting in the starting lineup as a true freshman is not to be taken lightly, as Watters replaced senior Sam Hillegas in the lineup.
Hillegas remains on the WVU wrestling roster, but is now listed in the 141-pound weight class.
“We wanted to see how much Ty grew over the summer,” Flynn said. “He could be a great 149-pounder. When you wrestle well like that, it doesn’t really matter how old you are.”
Both Strickenberger and Watters set the bar high for themselves for their first season in a Mountaineers singlet.
Strickenberger said he aspires to have a solid season on the mat to obtain an All-American status and eventually stand atop the podium at the NCAA Tournament as a national champion.
Watters kept his outlook short and sweet.
“All-American,” he said.
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