WJU wrestling sets plans to expand practice room

To say the Wheeling Jesuit Cardinals’ wrestling program has come a long way in a short amount of time would be greatly underselling the work of head coach Sean Doyle and his team.

With just one full season of wrestling on its resume, Jesuit is in the process of building a program that Doyle hopes will one day bring a national title back to the Friendly City.

He’s not being arrogant either when he says that.

“We’re trying to get the best kids in the country to come here and show them that we’re serious about (the sport) and being a national champion,” Doyle said. “When a kid comes on the campus and looks around, we want them leaving knowing that we’re serious about this. We’re in a good place, but you have to keep your eyes on what’s next.”

On top of having a fairly successful season on the mat, the Cardinals have continued to build steam in the off-season.

Through Doyle’s recruiting, Jesuit has a top-shelf class coming in for this season, the school hosted its inaugural camp with more than 250 kids taking part and now work is starting on an expansion project of the team’s practice room inside the Alma Grace McDonough Center.

“It was probably just a year ago to the day that were putting the padding on the walls of the room we have now,” Doyle said. “That room was ideal for 25 kids, but now we have 45 kids.”

The project wasn’t able to start until the funds were secured, according to Doyle.

“The room needed to be expanded or it would have been challenging to keep the number of guys we have,” Doyle said. “It’s come together and we’re going to get the project started and by September it should be complete.”

The dimensions of the room will be 100 feet by 50, which creates 5,000 square feet of mat space.

“That allows us to create much more flexibility with what we can do in that room,” Doyle said. “It’s going to allow us to get to the national level competitively. It’s going to allow us to bring in some kids who can be impactful right away.”

Doyle and his program has received donations from groups such as Wheeling Youth Wrestling and the Saints and Sinners, which held a golf scramble to support the project.

“We’ve worked really hard,” Doyle said. “We’re just working year round to get us to the point, as a program, we want to be.

“The schools sees that we’re working our butts off to be successful and they’ve been totally supportive of us.”

Looking ahead to next season, the Cardinals’ schedule is done. They were invited to take part in the prestigious “Grapple at the Garden” which is held on Dec. 21 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“That’s a big draw for people,” Doyle said. “I was having a conversation with Coach (Rob) Koll at Cornell and asked him what he thought the chances of us wrestling in the Garden would be?”

Doyle estimates 20 minutes he later he received an email from the promotional director of the event about dates.

“I was thrilled and our guys are extremely excited,” Doyle said. “I don’t think there’s a better way of marketing our program than having us in the spotlight at one of the most historical sporting venues in the world at Christmas time. This is just another huge step for us in becoming a nationally known program.”

Doyle realizes having Koll, who was his coach at Cornell, in his corner didn’t hurt Jesuit’s cause in landing an invitation.

“I think he has pride in the guys in the guys who’ve graduated and are now coaching their own programs,” Doyle said. “I didn’t know when it would happen, but I figured I’d ask him because he can make a lot of things happen (in wrestling).”

The event will be the final action the Cardinals see before the wrestlers head home for their holiday breaks. Doyle believes that the Cardinals will face off with George Mason, a Division I program, at the event.

“I don’t think we’ll feel the magnitude of it until we walk into the Garden,” Doyle said. “I’ve never been there, and I don’t think any of our guys have been there. Walking in there, knowing the history, is going to be great. I think our guys will have an awesome time and it’s kind of a reward for them after the first semester.”

According to Doyle, there are two rounds of dual meets during the day and many of the heavyweights in major college wrestling, including Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Cornell, Virginia and Virginia Tech.

“Just the opportunity for our guys to be on the mat next to those teams, watching that level of competition and intensity is going to help us,” Doyle said. “More times we can put our guys in a position to see that type of wrestling, we’ll get to the level we desire quicker.”

Along with the addition of the event in New York City, the Cardinals will not wrestle West Liberty prior to the OVAC semifinals in January.

The Cardinals and county-rival Hilltoppers will clash on Dec. 4 at the McDonough Center.

“The West Lib. match is one that’s starred on our calendar,” Doyle said. “We’re really excited to have the match on campus. It’s before finals week, so our hope that is tons of students, from both schools, will be able to make it. We have an awesome following in wrestling here already.”

Wheeling Jesuit, which opens the 2014-15 season on Nov. 1 at Baldwin-Wallace, is also serving as the host of the West Virginia Collegiate Open on Jan. 24. The Cardinals won that tournament last season on the campus of West Liberty.

Staskey can be reached at sstaskey@timesleaderonline.com