MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Prior to the start of the 2011-12 West Virginia University wrestling season, coach Craig Turnbull spoke about the importance of staying healthy, managing the ups and downs of a collegiate wrestling season and extracting as much as possible out of each experience in preparation for the postseason.
In the end, two of the three pillars Turnbull laid out were able to be executed successfully, but it was the difficulty of staying healthy that may have ultimately defined the Mountaineers’ season.
Three of WVU’s top wrestlers – redshirt junior Colin Johnston
(133) along with redshirt seniors Matt Ryan
(184) and Brandon Williamson
(HWT) – each had promising seasons derailed by various injuries.
Johnston, who was ranked as high as No. 9 in the country to begin the season, saw his season come to an end after he had season-ending surgery just over one month into the season.
Despite the injuries, the Mountaineers were able to finish the season with a 9-4 overall record and a 4-2 mark in the team’s final season in the Eastern Wrestling League, as the University prepared for its move to the Big 12.
“Overall, I thought we had a good year as a team,” Turnbull said. “We competed very hard, and we battled well during the season. We got better as the year went on. You are always going to have a match or two when you are not going to get your best wrestling out, and we had that happen a couple times this season, especially at Penn State. We did learn from that experience, though, and we had better practices and better matches as the season went along. Our team saw the culmination of that after we defeated No. 10 Edinboro.”
In addition to posting the team’s second straight nine-win season, WVU also had six of its 10 grapplers qualify for the NCAA Championships that were held in St. Louis, Mo.
The Mountaineers had five wrestlers punch their ticket to the national tournament with automatic bids at the EWL Championships.
Ryan and Williamson, along with sophomore Michael Morales
(141) each earned their first EWL crowns, while junior Shane Young
(125) placed second and redshirt sophomore Nathan Pennesi
(133) placed second.
The sixth and final WVU wrestler to qualify was redshirt sophomore Lance Bryson
(174), who earned his first trip to the NCAA Championships by way of an at-large bid.
“Going into the national tournament we thought that four of the six guys would have the chance to compete and be standing on the podium as an All-American,” Turnbull said. “Shane Young
was able to battle in a 10-8 decision against Stanford’s Ryan Mango, who was an All-American, while Lance Bryson
was able to take Minnesota’s All-American Logan Storley into overtime.”
Williamson advanced the furthest of the six that qualified for the tournament, as he made it to the third round of wrestlebacks before being eliminated.
was perhaps our most prepared wrestler, and we thought he could work his way into the finals or at least become an All-American,” Turnbull said. “He suffered a very odd injury five days before the tournament as he tore a ligament in his toe. Once we began to get that under control, he severely sprained his other ankle in his win against Austin Marsden from Oklahoma State. It is hard to make comparisons, but he lost a 2-1 match to Zach Rey from Lehigh on essentially no ankles. Rey ended up making it to the finals. That is just one of those things that life isn’t fair or unfair, it just is.”
Williamson finished his senior season with a 28-8 overall record, concluded his career with two NCAA Championships appearances and amassed a 48-17 record in his three years with the program.
For Ryan, the national tournament was equally disappointing, as he lost close matches to Boise State’s Jacob Swartz and North Dakota State’s MacKain Stoll.
showed the capability to be standing on the podium at the end of the year, but little, chronic injuries bothered him all year long,” Turnbull said. “I don’t know that he was able to get his best wrestling out at any point of the year, especially at the national tournament.”
Ryan completed his senior year with a 19-8 overall record and ended his career with a total of 56 wins. In addition, Ryan will leave the program with 23 career pins, which places him third on the all-time list at WVU.
“Matt and Brandon really contributed significantly to the growth of the program,” Turnbull said. “Those are two leaders that are going to be tough to replace.”
Despite facing the losses of Williamson and Ryan, Turnbull does feel confident in what Young, Pennesi, Morales and Bryson offer next season as they will return to the lineup.
Young, who had a 24-8 record and led the team with 30 takedowns in dual meets in 2011-12, will come back for his senior season with an opportunity to qualify for his fourth NCAA Championships.
Pennesi will enter his junior year with a 62-20 overall record after he led the Mountaineers with 29 wins, 123 dual points for, 54 nearfall points, 12 major decision and four technical falls.
Morales’ 18-2 mark in 2011-12 boosted his career record to 36-13, while Bryson will enter his redshirt junior year with another year of experience under his belt and 37 career victories.
“We are sad that Brandon and Matt couldn’t really chase their hopes and dreams, but our young guys showed tremendous potential,” Turnbull said. “Michael Morales
is worth mentioning because he it looked as though he was going to have shoulder surgery at the midpoint of the season, but Colin’s injury forced him into the lineup. He responded great to that pressure.”
Along with the quartet of NCAA qualifiers, WVU will also return promising redshirt freshman Brutus Scheffel
(149), true freshman Dominic Prezzia
(157) and redshirt sophomore Mac Mancuso
Scheffel completed the 2011-12 campaign with an 18-15 overall ledger, including a win over Michigan State’s Dan Osterman, who was ranked No. 22 in the nation at the time of the match.
Prezzia, who opened his rookie season off with seven straight wins, ended his season with 17 total wins.
Lastly, Mancuso posted an 18-9 overall record and will head into his junior year with a total of 31 career victories.
“It is our hope that each of those guys were able to gain very valuable experience from the year,” Turnbull said. “Brutus has a great competitive approach, and his experiences against some of the top-tier wrestlers in his weight class should propel him into next year. Dominic started out really strong, but the challenge and the strength of the schedule started to overwhelm him a little bit as compared to what he was familiar with in high school. We are really impressed with his character and his potential.”
With the book on the 2011-12 season coming to a close, the WVU wrestling team will now have their focus set on the preparations for a new season – one that will bring the challenge of Big 12 competition.
“We are going to have a team talk here soon,” Turnbull said. “We hope that the question marks in the lineup create some competition amongst the weight classes. The move to the Big 12 should add some excitement and really make these guys understand the necessity of having a quality summer. There are a lot of questions marks, but there often is from year to year. I would like next year to not be a building year, but when you lose the strength up top that we depended on, there are some questions of what will happen. There is going to be some lack of experience in the lineup, but we are going to be okay, and we are looking forward to the challenges that next year will present.”