WVU wrestlers prep for nationals

Gold and Blue Nation

Photo courtesy WVU Athletics

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Four members of the West Virginia University wrestling team set to compete at the 2021 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, set for March 18-20, at the Enterprise Center, in St. Louis, Missouri.

Redshirt juniors Killian Cardinale (125) and Noah Adams (197), redshirt freshman Ryan Sullivan (133) and freshman Peyton Hall (165) will compete at this year’s tournament. Cardinale, Adams and Hall each earned automatic bids based on their performances at the 2021 Big 12 Wrestling Championship, while Sullivan received an at-large selection to punch his ticket.

The three-day event will start Thursday at 11 a.m. ET with the first round of championship competition (Session I). Wrestle-backs and the championship second round (Session II) will take place at 6 p.m. ET. Quarterfinals and the second and third round of wrestle-backs (Session III) will begin at 11 a.m. ET on Friday, followed by semifinals and fourth round wrestle-backs (Session IV) at 8 p.m. ET that evening. Medal rounds (Session V) will take place at 11 a.m. ET on Saturday, with the championship finals (Session VI) set for 7 p.m. ET Saturday night.

Early sessions will be broadcasted on ESPNU, while second-round matches, as well as the medal round, will be shown live on ESPN2. Friday night’s semifinals and Saturday’s championship finals also will be broadcasted on ESPN. Live stats for all matches are available on TrackWrestling. Additionally, all matches will be shown on ESPN3 via the WatchESPN app.

“I know the kids are excited to be here,” third-year coach Tim Flynn said. “It’s a beautiful arena, and we are just excited to see where they fit in nationally. Preparation is key, and I think they are as fresh as we can get them. They have to be mentally and physically ready. They have to be hungry.

“It’s like a hot dog eating contest. If you don’t sit down and start eating hot dogs right away, you are not going to win. If we are not out there scoring points, it’s probably not going to go well. We have to make sure we are out there getting after it. The mental side of being ready is equally as important as the physical side.”

As the No. 17 seed at 125 pounds, Cardinale (12-4) is slated to meet No. 16 Codi Russell (15-1) of Appalachian State in the first round. Following a quarterfinal loss at the 2021 Big 12 Championship, Cardinale maneuvered his way through consolations to earn a third-place finish in his respective bracket. The Bristow, Virginia, native finished the tournament with a team-best 5-1 record. Russell, who competed at 133 pounds the last two seasons, won the 125-pound title at the 2021 SoCon Wrestling Championship on Feb. 28. The two grapplers have not met this season.

No. 20 Sullivan (7-3) will face No. 13 Zach Redding (10-5) of Iowa State in the first round of the 133-pound pool for the first time this season. Despite suffering a hamstring injury in the first round of the conference championship, the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, native carries a 7-3 record into the national tournament. He earned himself a spot in the Mountaineers’ starting lineup on Jan. 31 and has registered three wins over opponents ranked inside several wrestling publications this season. Redding landed on the podium at the Big 12 Championship, placing third.

At 165 pounds, No. 21 Hall (13-4) will take on No. 12 Jake Keating (10-3) of Virginia in the first round. Hall, a native of Chester, West Virginia, earned his first bid to nationals with a fourth-place finish at the conference tournament. Keating also looks to compete on the national stage for the first time in his career after posting a runner-up finish in his respective bracket at the ACC Championships on Feb. 28. The two wrestlers have not met this season.

No. 20 Adams (13-3) will square off against No. 24 Benjamin Smith (5-4) of Cleveland State in the first round of the 197-pound pool for the second time this season. The two went head-to-head on Jan. 23, with Adams earning an 8-2 decision over Smith. The Coal City, West Virginia, native most recently placed third at the Big 12 Championship. Smith earned his automatic qualifying spot after finishing second at the MAC Championships on Feb. 27.

“I’m not a we should’ve been here or there guy,” Flynn said. “I’m a we have to win five matches to be a national champion guy, so I didn’t really look into it (the brackets) too much. All of our opponents are pretty solid kids. We have seen Killian’s guy before. I actually coached his brother Sean Russell at Edinboro, so I know Codi Russell. Matt Schmitt also wrestled him when he was with WVU, so we know him a little bit. I don’t know a ton about Peyton’s kid, and Ryan’s opponent, we recruited, so we know Zach Redding pretty well. When you are not the top seed, you are going to wrestle tough kids. I always say it’s not a sport for the weak.”

With four competing at this year’s event, West Virginia boasts 189 national qualifiers since 1979, when the NCAA implemented the current qualification system.

The Mountaineers have earned All-America accolades 32 times at the NCAA Championships and have posted 16 top-25 finishes at the event since 1929. The squad also boasts five individual national titles, including three-time national champion Greg Jones.

Of note, the 2021 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships will run as double-elimination, and the top-eight finishers in each weight class will earn All-America honors.

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