ST. LOUIS – The West Virginia University wrestling team will begin the final chapter of its 2011-12 season this week, as it competes in the NCAA Championships in St. Louis, Mo., on Thursday through Saturday.
Among the Mountaineers competing in the national tournament are junior Shane Young (125), redshirt sophomore Nathan Pennesi (133), sophomore Michael Morales (141), redshirt junior Lance Bryson (174), and redshirt senior Matt Ryan (184) and Brandon Williamson (HWT).
“These are the six people that we were depending on throughout the year to win dual meets,” says coach Craig Turnbull. “All of our guys are in the No. 10 to No. 20 range, and it is going to take a very good tournament from each one of them to do well this week, but that is what is expected when you are at the national tournament.”
Of the six WVU qualifiers, four are making a return trip to the NCAA Championships.
This will be Young’s third trip, while Pennesi, Ryan and Williamson are making their second appearance on the big stage.
“It doesn’t matter what you have done up to this point,” Turnbull says. “Once you are in St. Louis for the national tournament, it is like a new season for a wrestler. You have the ability to chase your hopes and dreams once you hit the mat.”
For Morales and Bryson, it will their first trip to the NCAA Championships, and for Bryson, it is particularly special after he missed the previous two seasons due to two separate shoulder surgeries.
“Getting Lance into the NCAA Championships is really critical to his development,” Turnbull says. “He has had matches with the best people, and he has beaten some of the best people. This is going to do a lot for his career.”
Pennesi’s qualification for the national tournament is one that Turnbull says is unlike anything he has seen during his time. The Latrobe, Pa., native began the year at the 141-pound weight class for the Mountaineers, but after an injury to redshirt junior Colin Johnston, Pennesi bumped down to 133 pounds.
The move also benefitted Morales, who was expected to redshirt, but instead took over Pennesi’s original spot at 141 pounds.
“It happens very seldom,” Turnbull says. “I don’t know that I have had anyone do that. When Colin Johnston went down, we needed to solve a problem. It worked out very well for both Nathan and Michael.”
For seniors such as Williamson and Ryan, each will head into the tournament with a chance to add to their storied careers at WVU.
Ryan is in sole possession of third place on the program’s all-time pins list, while Williamson fell one win short of All-American status in his previous trip to the NCAA Championships.
“Both Matt and Brandon will be wresting in brackets that are pretty wide open,” Turnbull says. “Brandon’s class in particular lines up in a manner that you can make a run. We would hope that both of them could be All-Americans by tournament’s end.
Fans can watch tournament action live on ESPN3 on Thursday, ESPN3 and ESPNU on Friday and Saturday’s action on ESPN and ESPN3.
Live bracket updates will be available on multiple websites, including the NCAA Division I wrestling page.
A full recap of each day’s action will be available on MSNsportsNET.com after the completion of competition.