Wrestling Opens Saturday With 2008 Wolfpack Open
RALEIGH, N.C. Looking to improve upon last year’s 25th-place national finish, the NC State wrestling team will open the 2008-09 season Saturday at the Wolfpack Open. The tournament will begin at 10 a.m. at Reynolds Coliseum and should continue throughout the day. Admission to the public is free.
This will be the second year of the Wolfpack Open, and the this year’s event will be considerably more challenging than a year ago. Fifth-ranked Ohio State and 17th-ranked Maryland will in the field, and as many as 50 individually ranked wrestlers could be there. In addition, North Carolina, UNC Greensboro, Duke, Campbell and George Mason will be in the field.
“This should be a really good tournament,” Wolfpack head coach Carter Jordan says. “We’ve been really pleased at the interest from teams, and I think the field should be very strong.”
NC State is coming off a year that unusual in that the team posted a 9-10-1 record in dual matches, the program’s first losing record in five years, but went on to record its first top 25 national finish since 1993. Injuries played a big part in the dual-match record, but in constructing his team, fifth-year Wolfpack head coach Carter Jordan has geared his roster to March and the postseason.
An occasional hole in the lineup may lead to losses in dual matches. The converse of that, however, is that one dominant performer, such as 2008 All-American Darrion Caldwell, can score significantly more points in a tournament than in a single bout in a dual match. Jordan would like to field a lineup with several dominant wrestlers, which ultimately should lead the Wolfpack back to the national top 10, regardless of the dual-match record. This year’s lineup definitely has the potential to build upon last year’s strong national showing.
“Now that we’re fully funded and we’re in a very competitive conference, we’re trying to build our team for the end of the year,” Jordan says. “I’ve never been that concerned with our dual-meet record because it has nothing to do with anything other than getting these young men matches and creating an atmosphere for fans to come and watch.
“I could build a 20-4 season every year if I wanted to, but I don’t know if that would be good for my guys. The formula for success here at NC State when we were a national-caliber program was to wrestle a schedule in which we spread those tough teams out and try to be as competitive as we can be in the ACC so that we could set ourselves up for seeding for the ACC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.”
Jordan views Caldwell’s breakthrough to All-America status as a team breakthrough as well. The Wolfpack’s last All-American was Mike Miller in 1996. From 1981 until Miller in 1996, the longest NC State had gone without an All-American in wrestling was three years, and that happened just once. The 12-year gap between Miller and Caldwell, by comparison, was an enormous gap. Now that Caldwell has broken through, Jordan looks for many more to follow.
“You can talk about it all you want, but until you’ve got somebody on the team who has done it, now it’s real,” Jordan says. “It’s credibility. The other guys understand that. They’ve seen it first-hand. We’ve talked about finishing in the top 25. Well, we did it. Those things are very important. We’re not talking it them anymore. We’re doing it. There are some things that the kids want to do this year, things that we want to do as a team. We’re going through our goal-setting right now. I’m sure that another top 25 finish will be one of those goals. Winning an ACC championship as a team will be one of those goals. Producing All-Americans will be one of those goals. Producing national champions will be one of those goals. We’ve come a long way here in five years.”
Caldwell returns this season, and he should have some help. Senior Kody Hamrah returns at 157 after redshirting a year ago. That adds immediate heft to the middle of the lineup. Senior Ryan Goodman will return to the wrestling team once the football season is over, and as a three-time NCAA qualifier and a two-time conference champion, Goodman brings a wealth of experience to the mat.
At 174, Jacob Burge will make his collegiate debut. A two-time state champion in Michigan, Burge ranks among the most heralded recruits the Wolfpack has signed in recent years and should make an immediate impact.
“This year, we’re going to be much stronger,” Jordan says. “We have Kody Hamrah back in the lineup. We bring into the lineup one of the best freshmen in the country. He is as impressive as a freshman as I’ve ever seen since I’ve been here at NC State. He will help us right away and will compete at the national level. I’m talking about Jake Burge. We have Darrion Caldwell, a returning All-American, back in the lineup. He should compete for a national championship. Joe Caramanica, Taylor Cummings, Kody Hamrah, Darrius Little, Bobby Isola, the improvement that we’ll see from them from a year ago, the maturity that our upperclassmen will give us, all those things make me very excited about this team.”
Jordan is dealing with one significant injury. Senior 141-pounder Joe Caramanica, if healthy, hopefully will pick up where he left off a year ago before he injured a knee at the conference tournament and was lost for the season. Caramanica and Caldwell together formed NC State’s first pair of 30-match winners since 1989. Both spent most of the year in the national top 10, and there is no reason to think that Caramanica would not have challenged for All-America honors as well. His status for this season is still a question mark because of a different knee injury he suffered in preseason practice.
“Hopefully, he’ll be able to go,” Jordan says. “It’s not going to require surgery, so it’s just a matter of how long it takes him to get back and how well he holds his weight when he gets back. He’s such a talented wrestler and we’d really love to get him back in the lineup this year. But we have to do what’s best for him.”
Jordan says Caramanica could be redshirted if the knee does not respond.
When Jordan became head coach in 2004-05, he made it abundantly clear that his goal was to restore NC State wrestling to the level of success it enjoyed during the 1980s and early 1990s, before scholarship reductions gutted the program. Each year has seen some level of improvement, including a dominating ACC championship two years ago, and a top 25 national finish and an All-American last season.
“I really feel that we’re right on schedule,” Jordan says. “We put a five-year plan together when I took over the program and we update it every year. We really feel that we’re in position to become a perennial top 20 program that consistently produces All-Americans and national champions. Part of that is winning conference titles along the way.
“I feel real good about this team, probably the most talent that we have had on the team at one time in the five years I’ve been here as head coach and the 12 years I’ve been here as a coach. Whether or not we’ll be able to get all that talent on the mat at the same time is another issue. If we can stay healthy and guys can spread out among the different weight classes, then this can be a really good team. I feel really good about this team.”
Following is a weight-by-weight look at the 2008-09 NC State wrestling team:
125: Taylor Cummings was ACC champion as a freshman two years ago and went 20-15 a year ago. He will be pushed for mat time by redshirt-freshman Mike Moreno, a four-time state champion from Tucson, Ariz., and one of the program’s top recruits two years ago.
Carter Jordan: “Taylor Cummings is a steady hand for us at 125. He’s a veteran of more than 60 matches in his career and a two-year starter. He works hard, has improved steadily since he’s been here, and provides us with leadership. Mike Moreno is an exciting young wrestler who will challenge Taylor and give us great depth at this weight class.”
133: Darrius Little came to NC State with limited experience and earned All-ACC honors as a freshman a year ago. Although still somewhat unseasoned, Little is one of the team’s best athletes and should challenge for the conference championship at 133 again as a sophomore.
Carter Jordan: “Darrius Little is so tough at 133 pounds. He surprised so many people last year because he was so unheralded coming out of high school and showed so much ability as a freshman. The good news is that he’s improved by leaps and bounds from last season.”
141: Senior Joe Caramanica was well on his way to challenging for a conference championship and All-America honors last year when he was felled by a knee injury in the conference tournament. He finished the season 30-6 and enters the 2008-09 season with a career mark of 73-25 and ranked 18th in school history for career wins. Caramanica also is dealing with a knee injury that he suffered in preseason and his status heading into the season is a question mark. Behind him, the Wolfpack has several untested wrestlers who will need to make the most of the potential opportunity.
Carter Jordan: “We may have a hole at 141. Joe Caramanica has some health issues that he’s dealing with right now, and whether he’ll be able to hold that weight with the issues that he has remains to be seen. It would be a blow if Joe can’t go for us because he’s such a talented wrestler, but we’ve got some young guys who have looked good in practice. Sean Smith would be someone vying for that spot. He’s a returning letterman, a solid kid and a hard worker. We may move some guys around at that position. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
149: Darrion Caldwell spent almost the entire 2007-08 season ranked in the national top 10 at 149 pounds and was definitely on everyone’s short list of likely contenders for the national championship in what may have been the most loaded division in the sport last season. Caldwell finished fifth at the national tournament to become NC State’s first All-American in 12 years. At 36-5, he set a school record for victories by a sophomore and his 20 pins were third most in a single season in school history. At 56-11 with 33 pins for his career, Caldwell enters his junior season with a chance to become one of the two or three greatest wrestlers in school history, although he still has work to do to achieve that distinction.
Carter Jordan: “What can you say about Darrion Caldwell that hasn’t been said already. He’s one of the best wrestlers in the country in any weight class. He’s a returning All-American and his goal this year is winning the national championship, as it should be.”
157: Kody Hamrah redshirted a year ago and spent the year wrestling unattached in open tournaments around the country. The 2005 ACC Rookie of the Year and the 2006 ACC champion at 157, Hamrah returns to action this season with a career record of 48-21 and figures to be a prime candidate for postseason honors.
Carter Jordan: “Kody Hamrah gets back in the lineup at 157 pounds, and we’re happy to have him back in action. He had a year to travel and wrestle at some big tournaments. He’s very excited to be back in the lineup and he’ll certainly compete for All-American.”
165: This weight is the Wolfpack’s other major question mark. Freshman Quinton Godley is one of several who will be considered here.
Carter Jordan: “This is another weight where we might move some guys around. We have several guys vying for time here.”
174: Since becoming head coach, Jordan has brought in one high-profile recruit each year. This year, it’s Jacob Burge, a two-time state champion in Michigan and a tested freshman. Burge finished fourth in one college open tournament last year, wrestling as a high school senior, and went 129-4 his last two years in high school.
Carter Jordan: “Jacob Burge is as impressive a freshman as I’ve seen in my time here as a coach. He will help us right away and will compete at the national level.”
184: Mark Jahad struggled at 197 a year ago, but will move down a weight to 184, where his strength should be a plus against the relatively smaller wrestlers in his new weight class. Before his season fell apart in late January last year, Jahad had an 8-11 record with a win over 18th-ranked Joel Williams of Michigan State.
Carter Jordan: “Mark will be stronger at 184. He’s pretty athletic and that helps him. He was a small 197-pounder. When you get him in the kind of shape that he needs to be in, this is right in his wheelhouse. This is where he needs to be to be competitive.”
197: Ryan Goodman will be making tackles for the Wolfpack football team until late November, then will need some time to get ready for wrestling. He moved down to 184 a year ago and was a respectable 16-8, but also battled injuries and missed the entire month of February. He moves back to 197 this season and should be poised for a big senior season.
Carter Jordan: “Ryan’s a two-time conference champion and a three-time NCAA qualifier, so he’s got plenty of experience. This is going to be his last year, and we expect good things from him.”
Heavyweight: As a freshman a year ago, Bobby Isola won the third-most matches ever by an NC State freshman heavyweight, posting a 14-16 record. A year later, Isola is leaner and stronger, having added muscle and toned up his body with an offseason training regimen that included a stop at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
Carter Jordan: “Bobby looks like a different guy. He’s really matured and he worked very hard to transform his body. I look for that hard work to pay off with a big sophomore season.”