No. 4 Brian Courtney to Wrestle at Virginia

Six months after his incredible run to a PIAA Class AA title, No. 4 Brian Courtney continues to surprise.

The Athens Area senior caught most observers off guard on Friday night, when he announced his commitment to the University of Virginia.

“Honestly, I love the coaches,” said Courtney, who became the first wrestler to defeat three PIAA champions on his way to a state title last year. “They’re all great people. The team, they all have the same winning mindset. They’ll do anything to get there. Plus, it’s close enough that I can come home for the weekend, but far enough that I can do my own thing.”

Head coach Steve Garland has done a great job of attracting top Pennsylvania talent – the Cavaliers currently have nine Keystone State wrestlers on their roster. Courtney said that Keith Gavin was the first Virginia coach to recruit him, but that Garland and assistant Jordan Leen continued even after Gavin left for an assistant position at Oklahoma.

“It was a combination of all three of them,” Courtney said of who recruited him the most. “Gavin is doing what’s best for him.”

And Courtney’s doing what’s best for him, even if it’s not what most expected him to do. Athens is 40 miles south of Ithaca, New York, home to Cornell. Throw in the fact that Courtney has frequently worked out with Big Red recruits Yianni Diakomihalis and Vito Arujau and it was logical to assume that Courtney would follow suit.

Logical, but incorrect.

“I can’t say anything bad about Cornell,” Courtney said. “They’re an excellent school, excellent coaching staff, excellent team. They have a lot of good things coming. It sounds a little cliché, but it was a feeling. I felt like I fit better at Virginia. I was a little more at home.”

In addition to Virginia and Cornell, Courtney also took official visits to North Carolina and Nebraska. His brother convinced him to pick up a drinking glass when he visited each campus. When he announced his decision via video, Courtney chose to use them as props, filling the Virginia glass with lemonade.

“I thought it was a pretty clever idea,” he said.

Academics played a major role in Courtney’s decision, as Virginia is ranked as one of the top public universities in the nation.

“That was a huge thing on my mind – the academics and what I can do afterward,” said Courtney, who hopes to enter a medical field. “As much as we all hate to admit it, wrestling does eventually end. I wanted to get a degree where I knew I could do something. At Virginia, I can get a master’s degree in five years. That’s a huge thing.”

Courtney isn’t sure where he’ll wrestle in college – he said it could be anywhere from 133 to 149 pounds – and he didn’t worry about who was on the roster ahead of him.

“If they’re recruiting me, they have confidence that I can start, and I have confidence that I can start,” he said. “I don’t look at it as who is in my way. I look at it as training partners.”

Those training partners should include Pennsylvania graduates Sam Krivus (141, Hempfield Area) and Micky Phillippi (133/141, Derry Area). Garrett Peppelman (165, Central Dauphin), Robert Scherer (197/285, Burrell) and Jake Shaffer (174/184, Greater Latrobe) also should be around when Courtney gets to Charlottesville. Chuck Boddy (285, Germantown Academy) and Chris Yankowich (149, Germantown Academy) are currently graduate students on the Cavaliers roster.

Another Pennsylvania standout – No. 2 Cameron Coy – recently committed to the Cavaliers as well. Courtney said he doesn’t personally know Coy, but “I love to watch him wrestle.”

Virginia fans likely will grow to love watching Courtney wrestle as well.

All Courtney has done is get better each year of his varsity career. After placing third as a freshman and second as a sophomore, Courtney won gold at 126 pounds last season, defeating returning champions Jonathan Gabriel, Cole Matthews and Max Murin along the way.

He has a career record of 110-4 and won a FloNationals title in April, beating three-time California state champion Justin Mejia in the finals.

So how does Courtney top that kind of run?

“I’m not looking to top it,” he said. I’m looking to repeat. I’m looking to go out there and score as many points as possible and let the outcome take care of itself.”

Courtney will continue to seek the top competition, as he’s planning to wrestle in the Journeyman Fall Classic this weekend and the Super 32 later this month.

“My mom and dad made so many sacrifices to take me all over,” he said. “I’ve been up and down the East Coast. They did that for me and it paid off in the end. I’m hungry for more. I want to keep wrestling good kids and do what I can do.”

He plans to wrestle at 135 pounds this weekend, but he’s not sure where he’ll be for the high school season. He said he’s will to move around to do whatever is best to help Athens achieve team success. As he showed last year, he’s not going to run from anyone.

“I’m still going to seek out the best competition” he said. “I’m going to go where the tough kids are.”

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