March 14, 2012
The Virginia wrestling team left for St. Louis on Wednesday with six Cavaliers hoping to return with NCAA gold.
A program-high three wrestlers are ranked in the Top 12 in their respective brackets, including junior Matt Snyder (No. 11 at 125), senior Nick Nelson (No. 7 at 141) and sophomore Jon Fausey (No. 7 at 184). All three were ACC champions and earned automatic bids.
"We're expecting them all to place, that's our goal," said head coach Steve Garland. "We want everybody going out there to have the goal to place out there - at least. Realistically is it gonna happen, I like to think so. Every time you go out there you have to prepare yourself like that."
Nelson is making his third trip to NCAAs and is one of two returners, along with Snyder, that advanced to the Round of 2012 last season. Fausey is also a returner, going 2-2 in last year's championships.
"I think I can beat any single kid in the country," said Snyder. "Whereas last year I didn't so now it's that big confidence change from last year's experience is what is going to help me this year."
"The goal is to be a national champ, be on the podium," said Fausey. "But I think more of a focus for myself is just really letting it loose out there,having fun, enjoying myself and just going hard for seven plus minutes."
"I'm just trying to focus on the journey," added Nelson. "And taking each match as if it's going out there for seven minutes of fun, seven minutes of battle,. Just kind of getting lost in the moment and letting things happen, letting the instincts really take over and letting all my hard work pay off."
Matt Nelson, Nick's twin brother, also earned an automatic berth into the tournament at 133 pounds. Nelson is making an appearance in his first year of collegiate competition after suffering a severe concussion in high school.
Earning at-large bids were Gus Sako at 149 pounds and redshirt freshman Nick Sulzer at 165.
After finished second as a team at the ACC Championships, Coach Garland said the team almost had 'too much' confidence and the NCAA competition puts them back in a comfortable role.
"We are the underdogs, we are the guys that nobody expects," he noted. "We are the guys from Virginia that, lets face it, guys from Iowa and Oklahoma State aren't too worried about. Well, that's a great thing for us, that's a really good position for us to be in because we wrestle so well, historically speaking, in those situations."
Virginia is aiming for its third-straight top 25 finish, which would be a first in program history. Virginia's best finish at NCAAs was tied for 10th in 1957.
2012 NCAA Championships
125 pounds - No. 11 seed Matt Snyder (R-Jr., Lewistown, Pa.)
133 pounds - Matt Nelson (Sr., Pittsburgh, Pa.)
141 pounds - No. 7 seed Nick Nelson (R-Sr., Pittsburgh, Pa.)
149 pounds - Gus Sako (So., Cleveland, Ohio)
165 pounds - Nick Sulzer (R-Fr., Cleveland, Ohio)
184 pounds - No. 12 seed Jon Fausey (R-So., Dalmatia, Pa.)
Click here for the full NCAA Championship brackets.