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Carter, Sheptock showcase talents in All-Star Classic; Virginia Tech redshirt junior moves up to 141 pounds
The 2013-14 college wrestling season gets under way over the next two weekends, and the Atlantic Coast Conference’s seven programs will plunge into action with tournaments and dual meets.
Among the most closely watched early matches will be a pair of individual exhibition bouts this Saturday night in Fairfax, Va., on the campus of George Mason University.
The NWCA All-Star Classic’s packed lineup features Virginia Tech redshirt junior Devin Carter, ranked third at 141 pounds, facing top-ranked 133-pound Tony Ramos of Iowa in an “out of weight class” match. At 184 pounds, Maryland’s third-ranked Jimmy Sheptock will battle fifth-ranked Jake Swartz.
“It’s quite an honor,” Carter said of his selection. “There’s a huge tradition behind this meet, and just to be on the mat with all the national champions and finalists I’ve been watching the past few years is something special.”
Sheptock was originally slated to face two-time national champion Ed Ruth of Penn State, but Ruth was forced to withdraw due to injury.
“We had a few guys from Maryland wrestle at the Classic in the last few years and they all said it was fun and cool to be a part of it,” Sheptock told Gary Blockus of The Daily Call in Allentown, Pa. “I understand Ruth is hurt, but that doesn't matter to me. It's just an honor to represent Maryland and everyone back home."
Since Saturday night’s matches are designated as exhibitions, the results will not count on participating wrestlers’ season or career records. But given the level of competition and the collective fire of the All-America participants, those in attendance are almost certain to see college wrestling at its very highest level.
“It is just like (Virginia Tech) coach (Kevin) Dresser preaches: Treat every match like it’s the national championship,” Carter said. “It’s going to be a good test. I’ve got a national championship caliber guy I am wrestling. I am just going to treat it like a match in March, even though it’s in November.”
BACK IN THE ROTATION
Carter, the 2011 ACC Co-Freshman of the Year and the 2012 ACC Wrestler of the Year as a 133-pound competitor, took a redshirt year last season and is anxious to resume his collegiate career in the next weight class.
“We knew I was going to go from 133 to 141,” Carter said of his decision to redshirt last season. “I was kind of a ‘tweener’ – I was about a 138-pounder and they wanted to get me a little bigger so I could fit into the weight better. Going on the freestyle circuit, training a little differently and tweaking a few things gave me better experience and got me bigger for the weight.”
Competing unattached last winter, Carter won titles at the Hokie Open and Nittany Lion Open. Carter additionally competed internationally at 60kg in freestyle and captured gold and bronze medals at the Dave Schultz Memorial Invitation and the Cerro Pelado International.
Still, he missed being part of weekly competition as a member of the Virginia Tech team.
“It is fun to be part of a team, to go to the tournaments and travel with the team and go through exactly what everybody else is going through,” Carter said. “Last year everybody was cutting weight, and I was kind of doing my own thing. Everybody was traveling and that sort of thing.”
Carter most longed to be on the mat with the Hokies last March, when they captured the program’s first ACC title and then posted the first top-10 team finish in school history.
“It would have been nice to have been part of that,” said Carter, a 2012 All-American who owns a 71-12 collegiate career record. “Even though I was in the stands, I definitely missed it a lot.”
But the Christiansburg, Va., native didn’t feel completely left out.
“Even though I wasn’t competing and putting actual points up for the team during the season, I was working out with them every day, working on technique with them and going through the same conditioning they were going through,” Carter said. “So I was there for them, I just wasn’t putting up the points.”
Now, as Carter prepares to compete regularly for the Hokies at 141 pounds, he believes he made a wise decision.
“It has a smooth transition, especially because of the redshirt year,” said Carter, who readily admits he feels pressured to match his previous level of success as he moves to the higher weight class.
“I put a little pressure on myself to get all the accolades I’ve gotten in the past,” Carter said. “But pressure is a good thing. Getting your nerves up is good for matches, and I think it makes everybody better when there is a little bit of pressure, a little bit of a chip on their shoulder.”
Carter is glad to be directly involved in a Virginia Tech season that includes a Jan. 19 home match against fellow nationally-ranked ACC opponent Maryland, one in which the Hokies have set a goal of shattering an attendance record. And when the Hokies defend their ACC title come March 8, they will do so in the friendly – but Carter hopes raucous – confines of Cassell Coliseum.
“We are definitely returning with the ACC Championship in mind again,” Carter said. “That’s the goal, especially since we’re here in Blacksburg. It would be nice to show our home base exactly what we’re made of. With our fans and the addition of the fans from all the other schools, could have a packed Cassell. We’ve never had a packed gym in Cassell for wrestling – we’ve seen it for basketball games and stuff. It would be nice to see it for wrestling and get it really loud in there.”
Carter and Sheptock are among 21 ACC wrestlers ranked among the top 20 in their respective weight classes by Intermat.com in preseason, including five among the top five.
In addition to Carter’s No. 3 ranking at 141 pounds, North Carolina’s Evan Henderson holds the No. 5 spot. Virginia’s Nick Sulzer is ranked No. 5 at 165 pounds.
Sheptock’s No. 3 ranking at 184 is matched by NC State heavyweight Nick Gwiazdowsk, who also is ranked third in his weight class.
InterMat’s preseason team rankings list five ACC squads among the top 25 nationally – Maryland (15), Virginia Tech (19), North Carolina (21), Pitt (T-22), Virginia (T-22). NC State is ranked 26th.