HAMPTON — History, quality and hospitality have allowed the Virginia Duals to endure and have made the annual January wrestling fest at the Hampton Coliseum a fixture in the local sporting landscape.
Participation has ebbed and flowed as competing events arose, schedule obligations conflicted and travel costs became prohibitive.
But the Duals’ unique format — college and high school matches side-by-side — coupled with the recent ascent of college wrestling in the state make the event viable and attractive.
“The fact that high school kids and college kids get to compete right next to each other is a big drawing point for the high school coaches, as well as the college coaches,” said Poquoson native Mike McCormick, one of the event’s organizers and a Hall of Fame wrestling official. “They get to watch some of the best high school wrestlers in the country. And the best high school wrestlers in the country get to watch the next level. For most of those kids, that’s where they want to be.”
Twenty-two college teams and 48 high school teams are entered. The college field in the National Division includes Virginia and Virginia Tech, both ranked in the top 15 nationally, as well as Edinboro (14), Bloomsburg (22), Rider and Old Dominion — the latter two were ranked in the top 25 this season. As many as 30 individual wrestlers are ranked.
Competition begins at 9 a.m. Friday and continues through championship and consolation matches scheduled Saturday at 8:30 p.m. For a full schedule, go to virginiaduals.org.
“I think it’s a big deal because you can sell it to recruits that they’re going to be able to wrestle in the Virginia Duals,” ODU coach Steve Martin said. The appeal even confers to wrestlers from out of the region, he said.
“It’s basically a hometown crowd,” Martin said. “Any time you can promote a home dual meet, because that’s basically what it is for us. We promote the Virginia Duals as having five top-25 teams; that’s generally what it is every year. They know they’re going to have quality in the schedule.”
Duals organizers and bracketeers do their best to accommodate schedule requests. They avoid rematches and future matches as much as possible, while giving teams and individuals challenging matchups that spectators want to see.
ODU, in its first season as a Mid-American Conference affiliate member, already has a plenty difficult schedule. The Monarchs wrestled Virginia Tech and Iowa State and have a dual meet with Virginia later this month. They just competed in the top-shelf Southern Scuffle tournament, and they conclude their conference schedule with dual meets versus Northern Iowa and Missouri, both currently in the top 10.
“You’ve got to put them in the fire,” Martin said of wrestlers. “There’s two ways you can do it: You can go with a weak schedule and be unprepared at the end of the year, or you can throw them in the fire and see where they stand. You’ve got to throw them in the fire and see where they stand, so they can adapt.
“Because the ultimate goal is to be a national champion at the end of the year. If you don’t wrestle good competition, at the end of the year you’re not going to get it done.”
The level of competition and exposure are only part of the draw for the Virginia Duals. The local wrestling community works ceaselessly to make it an attractive event.
“It’s the best event in the world, as far as how it’s run,” said McCormick, who has seen and officiated events everywhere. “We have the best hospitality room in the country, hands down. That’s a good drawing point, because the coaches are taken care of. It’s a very hometown feel. Coaches go lots of places where they’re not treated well. Here, there’s always a smile. It’s very hometown-ish, this event. People come back year after year after year because they’re taken care of and their needs are met.”
Fairbank can be reached by phone at 757-247-4637.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun