Washington and Lee second-year Wrestling Coach Nathan Shearer is pleased with where his team is after just one season working with the Generals.
On the surface it would appear that W&L is in for a rough season after posting a 3-18 record last winter and graduating the program's top two wrestlers. However, it would only appear to be so.
Sam Campbell and David Dennis both produced among the finest individual seasons ever achieved by a W&L wrestler, going a combined 48-14 last year. However, the Generals had difficulty fielding a complete roster and were forced to forfeit 18 points in every dual match without an athlete to fill the 125, 197 and 285-pound weight classes. While the Generals may not be dominant in any weight class this season, they'll field a complete roster with at least one wrestler competing in all 10 weight classes.
"While we don't return our two statistical leaders from last year's team, that does not mean winning dual meets will be more difficult," said Shearer. "Last year it was nearly impossible for us to win our team matches because we forfeited too many weight classes. You always have a chance when you've got a guy out there competing and all 10 guys will position us with the opportunity."
The Generals ended the 2011-12 season with just eight wrestlers and the number is currently a healthy 13. Depth is still a concern, but there is just enough to survive at a few of the weight classes.
Shearer also referenced his team's work ethic and togetherness as keys to the season.
"We've got 13 guys who are working together and I don't see any of them leaving the program," he said. "We've recruited a certain kind of wrestler who is committed to meeting our expectations on the mat and in the classroom. They all have a passion for being serious students and they have high goals on the wrestling side of things."
Shearer also credited this year's captains, juniors Dan Igel and H.T. Kotchinian, for grasping the expectations and translating that to his young roster that includes six first-years and four sophomores.
"Everyone is moving in the same direction with the same message," he said. "Dan and H.T. worked hard in the offseason and have set the tone in the preseason so that we could hit the ground running."
Another factor that could lead to greater success for W&L is that a majority of the team is now wrestling at their natural weight classes. Kotchinian will move from 149 to 141, sophomore Conor Duffey moves from 141 to 149, Igel moves from 165 to 157 and Zan Reed moves from 174 to 165. The shuffling around leaves a few battles remaining for the starting positions, but Shearer stressed that everyone will receive plenty of mat time as the entire team looks to improve.
"We're going to give these guys a chance to get out there and wrestle," he said. "We've got several tournaments on the schedule and we're going to get these guys a lot of matches – it's the best way to improve and prove yourself as a wrestler."
First-year Adam Davis will get the starting nod at 125 pounds after the Generals have forfeited six points at the position each of the last two years. A native of nearby Stuarts Draft, Va., Davis was a four-year district champion and a three-time placewinner at the state championships.
"Adam is just always on the mat, always in there working to improve," said Shearer. "He's a blue-collar, grinder kind of guy. He's not flashy and he's always scraped up and bloody, but he's an effort guy who loves to wrestle."
First-year Tyler Kaelin is expected to start at 133 pounds after winning four regional titles and finishing as a state finalist in Kentucky.
"Tyler is a vocal and high-energy guy," remarked Shearer. "He brings a lot of enthusiasm and encouragement every day. He's one of those guys that you wonder if he's ever had a bad day because he always brings a positive outlook."
Shearer expects Kotchinian to compete at 141 pounds after spending his first two seasons at 149 pounds. Last season, he notched a 9-20 overall record with 37 escapes and 15 takedowns.
"H.T. really bought in during the off-season, summer and preseason and has returned as a determined wrestler," Shearer offered. "He has taken his role as captain and has run with it. He has set high goals for himself and he is determined to achieve them."
Sophomore Conor Duffey will compete at 149 pounds after notching a 23-10 mark at 141 pounds during his rookie campaign. He notched six wins by pin and had 33 takedowns and 26 escapes. Classmate Matt Howell will join Duffey at 149 after he grew two classes over the off-season. He posted a 5-10 mark at 133 pounds last year.
"Conor took his lumps at times during his rookie year, but he's grown into a 149-pounder and I think he has matured a lot and is ready for the jump," said Shearer.
"Matt has been growing and may even grow some more," he added. "He did the work in the weight room and he's looked pretty good on the mat. There's a lot of development there."
Igel has wrestled up a class his first two years but will settle into his natural weight of 157 pounds for his junior season. Last year, he notched a 15-13 mark, posting 29 takedowns and 16 escapes.
"Dan has sincerely dedicated himself to getting better and making sure the team is there with him," Shearer said. "He expects a lot from himself this season."
First-year Josh Weldon will also compete at 157 after earning three letters at Chaminade High School in New York.
"Josh is going to get a lot of mat time this year and he's shown the attitude to improve," said Shearer. "He's an effort guy and we're going to make sure he gets his reps."
The 165-pound weight class will have the most open competition for the starting nod as sophomore Zan Reed battles with first-year Zac Richey. Reed posted an 11-16 mark at 174 pounds during his rookie campaign, while Richey is a three-time state placewinner and state champion as a senior at nearby Buffalo Gap High School.
"Zan got a lot of experience last year wrestling out of position," said Shearer. "He's at his natural weight now and he's gotten even stronger."
"Zac has come in right away and shown plenty of talent," Shearer added. "He loves the sport, loves competition and is focused every day on competing with and pushing Zan for the starting role."
First-year Ron Tassoni will start at 174 pounds, while sophomore Morgan Moskal will start at 184 pounds. Tassoni finished as the runner-up at the Pennsylvania Prep State Championship and placed fifth at the Prep National Championship, while Moskal notched a 7-24 record at 184 pounds during his rookie campaign.
"Ron loves to wrestle and is an accomplished prep wrestler," said Shearer. "His conditioning is second to none and I know that he will out-work any one of his opponents."
"Morgan wrestled a lot of matches during his first year with the team and you can already tell he is so much more mentally and physically prepared this season," Shearer remarked. "He came along by the end of last season and we're hoping he continues that improvement."
Senior Connor Smithson joins the wrestling program for the first time this year after playing lacrosse each of the last two seasons. He earned three letters in wrestling in high school and will step in at 197 pounds after the Generals forfeited every match at the weight last year.
"Connor really missed wrestling and we needed someone at 197 pounds so it has worked out great," said Shearer. "He has had a tremendous attitude and focus and his leadership as a Marine Officer Candidate School trainee has been tremendous."
First-year Grant Cokeley will be the Generals' first legitimate competitor at 285 pounds in four years. The graduate of George Washington High School in Charleston was a two-time West Virginia State Qualifier and a region champion as a senior when he finished fifth at the state championships.
"It's nice to have somebody there," said Shearer when asked about the heavyweight position. "Grant has technique and athleticism, two things that you don't see a lot of at 285 pounds. He will translate very well to collegiate wrestling and with added strength, he could be a dominant force."
Shearer crafted a schedule that will maximize all the available dates but one in an attempt to get his young and small roster a lot of experience. It all begins on Sunday as the Generals participate in the Virginia Tech Hokie Open.