No. 12 UVa Wrestling Ready for ACC Tournament

By: Nate Sulham Email
By: Nate Sulham Email

The No. 12 Virginia wrestling team is hoping the third time is the charm at this weekend's ACC Tournament in Blacksburg.

The Cavaliers have finished runner-up at the Tournament each of the past two seasons and are ready to make the championship jump.

"It's been a long time coming," sophomore 157-pounder Blaise Butler said at practice Wednesday. "I know how much work we've put in over the year and it'd be a shame to come home empty-handed. We've got to bring home something to show for it."

Virginia last won the Tournament title in the spring of 2010, but head coach Steve Garland has his team primed to change that after a record-breaking regular season.

The Wahoos won 18 dual meets and finished the regular season ranked 12th in the USA Today coaches poll --- the highest year-end finish in program history.

Garland says winning an ACC Championship would be a fitting end to an already successful season.

"It should be about the kids. And what it means to them is a big deal," Garland explained. "You've got guys like (seniors) Jon Fausey and Stephen Doty who've had amazing careers here who are going out and they want to go out on top. And guys like Blaise Butler, who are 'hungry for a ring', as he says. So you get excited that the kids are getting excited."

10th-ranked Pittsburgh and No. 16 Virginia Tech figure to be Virginia's biggest competition for the title.

The Panthers were unbeaten in conference meets this season, while the Hokies are the defending champs.

Virginia beat their in-state rivals 19-16 back in November in a hotly-contested match at John Paul Jones Arena but the Cavs were trounced on the road at Pitt, 25-9.

Garland believes all three teams are close in talent and every point will be crucial.

"Every year since 2008, this Tournament has come right down to the very last few bouts so I anticipate another close one this year," Garland said.

"This is a tournament and I feel like we're a great tournament team," Butler added. "Doesn't matter who we get, I feel like we're going to be able to put points on the board."

Virginia has six wrestlers ranked in the top-20 nationally entering the Tournament, led by 165-pound junior Nick Sulzer, who is No. 2 in the country.

Butler, ranked 14th, feels the team's challenging regular-season schedule will help the Wahoos this weekend.

"We've all wrestled numerous-ranked guys, we've all had numerous-ranked wins so hopefully it's prepared us for the ACC Tournament," Butler explained.

The Cavaliers are hoping to take a cue from their brethren on the court.

The No. 5 Virginia basketball team recently won the ACC regular-season title and has created a ton of excitement on grounds.

Garland is using Tony Bennett's team and their success as motivation for his own group.

"What the basketball team is doing has been so cool to watch," Garland said. "One thing I've been preaching to our guys this week is 'remember who you are'. That's what that team is. They know who they are. Coach Bennett said it best. They're humble. And that makes me want to be a better coach."

After back-to-back runner-up finishes, Butler and his teammates are focused on creating their own buzz by winning their Tournament.

"Everything comes down this. You don't want to leave the postseason empty-handed. The regular season, putting up a good record, it's all fun, but it's for nothing if you don't do anything in the postseason."

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