A Youth Movement Hits ODU Wrestling Program

November 20, 2003
By ODU Athletics
ODU Sports

Nov. 20, 2003

Not many programs around the country can say that after losing 14 roster spots the next year's team will be better, but that's exactly what's happening with the Old Dominion Wrestling team.

Nineteen new faces are in the wrestling room, 17 of which are new to the program, while the other two have stamped their names in the history books at ODU.

Jamie Kelly returns to the Monarchs as an assistant coach after the 1998 graduate spent the last four years as the head coach at Cox High School in Virginia Beach.

Kelly was an NCAA qualifier at 158 pounds.

Some current Monarchs were on the team when Jeff Rusak was ascending up the national rankings. Rusak, a 2001 graduate and four-time NCAA qualifier and two-time CAA champion, also comes on board as an assistant, giving head coach Gray Simons a youthful, motivated and more importantly, knowledgeable staff.

Rusak is the all-time leader in wins and pins at Old Dominion.

"They're both high energy people. Both when they were here had tremendous work habits," said the two-time Olympian Simons who's entering his 17th year at the helm of the Monarch wrestling team.

"This is home to me. I like it here and I'm loyal to Coach and this university. They gave me a shot to wrestle in college and now I owe it to them to give back," Kelly said of his return.

"It's good to have young people around. They've had some input and good ideas."

Kelly, who won 90 matches as a Monarch wrestler, knows there's some building to be come.

"I'm not coming in with any delusions of grandeur. I know we've got to put in some hard work," Kelly said.

While the new faces will be battling for spots in the lineup, Simons emphasizes that his more experienced wrestlers will have to carry the load to win dual matches.

"To win the duals meets, the four seniors, along with Chris Buckner and Adam Wright, gives us six pretty solid guys," Simons said.

Those four seniors all have solid chances at making the NCAA tournament this year in Kansas City.

Dennis Whitby will drop back to 149 pounds after wrestling last season at 157. Whitby was a CAA champion as a freshman. He'll be helped by the return of Jesse Pearce off his redshirt year.

Pearce was a point away from qualifying for the NCAA's in 2001 and will start at 157.

Derrell Lorthridge also fell just short of the NCAA's last year, finishing third in the CAA at heavyweight. The current team leader in active wins, Lorthridge is pushing for his first conference title and NCAA bid.

John Starkes has wrestled the best in the CAA close and will be looked upon to anchor the starting spot at 125.

"Derrell has always been an outstanding worker. (Pearce) has trained hard and having him back is going to help (Whitby)," Simons said.

Buckner, a redshirt sophomore, was the starter last season at 133, while Wright finished last season with a 24-10 record.

"I expect those six to have good years. The other weights (141, 165, 174, 197) are going to have to step up and they are capable of doing it," Simons said.

Simons is pleased by what he's seen from the new faces in preseason workouts and the first few weeks of practice.

"I feel good about those guys, we have better depth this year," he said.

That depth is also a reason Kelly and Rusak came in.

"When you can put your hands on the guys and show them exactly how to do something, it makes a difference," Kelly said.

"You also have two other guys now that can keep an eye on things instead of just coach (Simons)," Rusak said.

Despite losing a slew of competitors from last season, the four seniors and a core of experienced underclassmen is what the Monarchs are building around this season.

"You lose a bunch, but you got starters back. Injuries and transfers happen, but the nucleus is back. That's why we needed so many guys," Simon said about the school's largest wrestling recruiting class.

Several freshmen are battling already for the starting 141-pound spot, with Donald Motley and Jason Earnhardt the front-runners.

Junior John Adams comes down from 184 to battle sophomore Robby Gosnell for the starting spot at 165. Both Adams and Gosnell are coming off modestly successful seasons, despite limited action.

The loser of that wrestle-off will battle sophomore Matt Ulrey for the starting job at 174. Last season as a freshman, Ulrey was up and down, but peaked at the Virginia Intercollegiate State Tournament, placing second.

Sophomore John Dolida will be the man at 197.

Salem, N.H., native Andy Lacroix was the top ranked national recruit incoming this season. LaCroix, who will vie for time at 125 or 133, was ranked 12th in the country last season and just missed placing at senior nationals.

Redshirt freshman Billy Hayduk transfers in from Tennessee-Chattanooga. Hayduk, who nearly came here a year ago, left his hometown of Chattanooga for Norfolk this season and his intensity has been a welcome addition to the program.

Virginia natives are scattered across the room - local freshmen David Golt, Brian Roznowski, Jacob Forestiere, Josh Howland and Jared Smith are from the Hampton Roads area, as are Earnhardt and Motley.

Several high school place winners were also a part of this year's class. LaCroix was a three-time New Hampshire state champion and two-time New England Champion. Roznowski, Earnhardt, Foresterie, Valentine and John Harris were also state runners-up in Virginia in their respective school classifications.

"If a kid comes out of a good program, his background is good as far as training and he's well coached, than the kid is further ahead when you get him," Simons said of high school recruiting.

Rusak and Kelly will also have a significant hand in recruiting for the coming years, but both are part-time assistants as they are both employed full-time. Kelly is still a teacher at Cox, while Rusak is an information systems specialist at Northrop-Grumman in Newport News.

"(Kelly) coached at Cox and wrestled at Great Bridge. He's going to really help with the local recruiting," Simons said.

A CAA championship is unlikely for this year's squad; they're just trying to improve after a collapsed at the CAA tournament where no one qualified for the NCAA's. Themat.com, one of the premier wrestling information sources on the Internet, predicts Old Dominion to finish eighth in the CAA.

"This is a Division I program I know in my mind that can succeed," Kelly said.

"Hofstra, Drexel and Rider, I think those will be the top three. The rest will be a pretty close battle. One thing (needed to be successful) is keeping the best guys healthy," Simons said.

Injuries have been a plague on the program the last several years and already Harris, Hayduk, Buckner and freshman Justin Bradley have been battling some nagging pains.

Forestiere recently had surgery on his left shoulder and is already out for the season and will redshirt.

"Sometimes during the season, you're going to get nicked up and hope it won't be too bad. There's no control over that," Simons said.

Kelly is also confident of this season being a turning point for the Monarchs wrestling team.

"If we have 28 guys with the same mentality, it's hard not to get better."