West Virginia University wrestling coach Tim Flynn met with the media Thursday ahead of the Mountaineers’’ season-opening quad meet with Kent State, Ohio University, and Virginia Tech set for Sunday at the WVU Coliseum.
“I’m most excited about just competing,” Flynn said. “It (wrestling) was taken away from us in March, we weren’t allowed to compete at the NCAA Tournament. And, we’ve been off the mats for forever. Normally [by now] we’re two full months into it. So, we’re just excited to watch some wrestling and to compete in general.”
When the college wrestling postseason was taken away last March, then redshirt sophomore Noah Adams lost his opportunity to contend for a national title. Both Adams and Ohio State’s Kolin Moore sported spotless records heading into NCAAs and were the favorites to take home the 197-pound crown.
Heading into the 2021 season, Adams, the focal point of the WVU lineup, is the consensus No. 1 197-pounder in the nation. InterMat, FloWrestling and The Open Mat all place the First Team NWCA All-America honoree atop their respective leaderboards. The Coal City, West Virginia native was crowned a Big 12 champion a year ago, completing the 2019-20 campaign with a perfect 32-0 overall record (including an unblemished 13-0 mark against conference opponents).
Adams was the No. 2 seed at 197 pounds heading into the 2020 NCAA Championships in Minneapolis when it was cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Adams’ unbeaten season also earned him the 2020 Hardman Award, an honor given to West Virginia’s amateur athlete of the year, as selected by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.
Even with a breakout season in 2020, Flynn does not expect Adams’ approach to change during the COVID-19-altered 2021 season.
“I don’t know that his approach has really changed,” Flynn said. “People forget, just because you’re an elite athlete, or you’re this hulking guy, he’s just a student-athlete. He’s been quarantined. He’s been dealing with schoolwork. And, he’s dealing with the normal ups and downs of being a student-athlete.”
Flynn went on to say that at this juncture of the season, the primary focus is just getting back on the mat and competing after such a long layoff.
“We haven’t competed in so long,” Flynn continued. “I don’t I know if he’s [Adams] thinking differently, but I think we’re just focused on this weekend, and getting a couple matches and see where we’re at [as a team].”
West Virginia’s approach, like many other teaming in college wrestling this season, is to not look beyond the match at hand – to take the season one event at a time. With that, Flynn has no expectations for the 2021 season other than getting more wins and developing his athletes to be the best they can be.
“We want to get more wins and we want to start to put some kids on that (medal) stand at the NCAA Tournament,” Flynn said. “We’re in a competitive conference where you’re going to run into some storied programs and top-10 programs. In college wrestling, you can lose the dual meet 30 to nothing and every single match be down to the wire. The score looks bad, but man was at a tight match. You know, we’ve had some losses where it wasn’t like that, so we need to just be more and more competitive [this year].”
WVU added redshirt junior Killian Cardinale (an Old Dominion transfer) to the starting lineup this offseason, something that is certainly expected to make a very young and inexperienced Mountineers’ squad more competitive this season.
“I think he’s gonna do well,” Flynn said of his 125-pounder Cardinale. “He approaches the sport the way we want kids to. He’s early to practice, he takes care of his body, he eats, right. He’s stretching, he goes to the training room after [practice]. He just tries to do all the right things.
Flynn continued praising Cardinale.
“It’s been a blessing to have, another guy in there just doing everything he can to be the best he can be. We need that. The more guys you have like that it drags some of the younger guys up. He’s been a pleasure to have.”
Cardinale, like Adams, is ranked by all three media outlets as well. The Bristow, Virginia, native appears at No. 12, according to InterMat and FloWrestling, and is ranked No. 13 by The Open Mat.
The lightweight comes to Morgantown and the Big 12 after spending the previous two seasons at Old Dominion. The former Monarch standout was a qualifier for the 2020 NCAA Tournament, after finishing the 2019-20 campaign with 25 wins, defeating six ranked opponents along the way. He also earned NWCA Division I All-America Honorable Mention honors last season.
Junior Caleb Rea, who sits at No. 20 in FloWrestling’s latest top-25 poll will also bring some more veteran experience and leadership to a WVU team that currently has 19 freshmen on the roster, including nine redshirt freshmen.
Rea, the Weirton, West Virginia native also ranks No. 23 in The Open Mat poll at 141 pounds. He tallied 17 wins last season, including six victories against conference foes. He also tied (with Adams) for the team lead in wins by fall with five.
As a team, West Virginia ranks as high as No. 21 in the latest tournament top-25 poll by InterMat and The Open Mat.
Here are five things to watch for during Saturday’s quad dual:
- Look for WVU to possibly seem sluggish at times throughout the day as is customary with a season-opening performance. WVU will have to, “work out the kinks” in their first match day of 2021.“I think where you may see (some issues), I hope not this weekend is, getting used to being down to weight, weighing-in wrestling a match, weighing-in (again), wrestling a tournament,” Flynn said. “We’ll see, we talked to our guys a lot about trying to be professional, in the best guys, that’s not an issue.”
- Expect to see WVU’s trio of ranked wrestlers come out of the gate fast and deliver some of the best performances of the day. Virginia Tech 165-pounder and 2019 NCAA Champion Mekhi Lewis will also shine.
- Be prepared to see a “youth movement” get underway in Morgantown. Many redshirt freshman and true freshman should see action Sunday, for some the first of their respective college careers.
- Watch for WVU to fair well against both Kent and Ohio, but have a more difficult time with the Hokies of Virginia Tech. WVU likely finished top-2 in this event behind those same Hokies.
- The Mountaineers are lacing up for the fight against Pediatric Cancer on Sunday with help from @Go4theGoal Foundation and @WVUKids. As a result, WVU will don gold shoelaces throughout the quad meet to show its support in the battle to defeat Pediatric Cancer.
— WVU Wrestling (@WVUWrestling) January 9, 2021
Wrestling is scheduled to begin at noon. The Mountaineers will begin with Kent State, followed by Ohio University at 1:30 p.m. and conclude with Virginia Tech at 3 p.m. The event can be seen via Big 12 Now on ESPN+.