The Wheeling Jesuit Wrestling team took a massive step toward establishing themselves as a program on the rise on Saturday, claiming their first-ever team tournament victory at the West Virginia College Wrestling Invitational.
In the process of winning the tournament, the Cardinals also earned a major victory over rival West Liberty, who had beat WJU just a week previous, and earned the "best team in West Virginia" moniker… a designation WJU's mostly freshmen team can be proud of. Also attending the tournament were squads from West Virginia Tech, Alderson Broaddus, Ohio Valley University, and WVU.
Wheeling Jesuit worked their way to eight top-three finishes that included first-place performances from Ryan Winslow (184lb), Damon Outward (141lb), and Scott Lopez (133) to earn 132.5 points, and beat West Liberty by a single point.
"Me getting the win in my weight class was great, but getting the team win to me means more than anything else," said Outward, the freshman from St. Clairsville. "I've been wrestling since I was five, and I don't think I've ever had a team win at any tournament. Especially being a first year program at a DII college, its really awesome being the best program in West Virginia. It's a great honor; I love every bit of it."
Jesuit head coach Sean Doyle was especially proud of his squad's performance, and rightly so. Thus far in the team's first year of existence the Cardinals have recorded some outstanding individual performances, but have only managed two team wins in duals.
"It was just an unbelievable team effort today. There were so many little things that produced the win," said Doyle. "All the way down the lineup. The spirit of the guys was contagious today. Our team, and the spirit of our team, and the support they have for one another, is unmatched. It was definitely visible up there today."
"You keep communicating things to the guys about persistence and putting in the time to see rewards… that's the most rewarding thing about today's win. We are seeing rewards," added coach Doyle. "We just lost to West Liberty last week, and got back in the practice room to improve, and this is the result."
A tournament win takes a strong overall performance, but Coach Doyle recounted some of the more crucial individual performances that led his squad to a victory. "Scott Lopez completely controlled his West Liberty opponent that beat him last week," said Doyle. "Brad Kakos, hurt his elbow, but still got some wins that we needed. Ryan Winslow is back in the lineup and he got three pins today. If he doesn't get a pin in any of those matches we don't win."
Picking up second place wins to bolster the Cardinal bottom line was Sawyer Leppla at 174 who has seen solid results so far this year… Max Lacey took second at 197, falling to West Liberty's Danny Doyle whom Lacey beat just last week… and Corey Siegfried picked up some crucial points in the heavyweight class.
Things don't get any easier for the Cardinals following the state tournament championship. WJU will travel to the University of Pitt-Johnstown who are ranked 13th in the nation next week, followed by traditionally strong regional foe Seton Hill and Shippensburg before the regional championship.
"Our communication all year has been that every week, every day you are learning and getting better," coach Doyle added. "We're really aiming to peak right now to get where we want to be before regionals."
The Cardinals will host one last event this spring when Shippensburg comes calling to the McDonough Center on February 5. Wrestling is scheduled to get under way at 7:00 p.m.