Sports

Wrestling duo earns titles at Bearcat Open

LaFragola ’19 wins 184-pound weight class, Viruet ’19 wins 165-pound weight class

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, November 15, 2018

The wrestling team put on an impressive performance at the Jonathan Kaloust Bearcat Open Sunday. The Bears had seven wrestlers competing in the quarterfinals and four in the semifinals, earning 29 wins in total. CJ LaFragola ’19 and Jon Viruet ’19 led the way for Brown, and took home titles in the 184-pound weight class and the 165-pound weight class, respectively.

LaFragola, a senior from Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey, qualified for the NCAA Championships and earned Second Team All-Ivy Honors in the past two seasons. Viruet, a senior from Springfield, Massachusetts, also qualified for the NCAA Championships last season and served as a co-captain of the team alongside LaFragola. For their excellence in the season opener at the Bearcat Open, LaFragola and Viruet have been named The Herald’s Athletes of the Week.

Herald: Congratulations on the great season-opening victories! How does it feel to perform so well at the start of the season?

LaFragola: Every time at the start of the season, you always get the first-match jitters. But it’s fun to get out there. Building up to this, we always talk about competing against ourselves, and we finally got to compete against new faces and try out all of the skills that we’ve been working on since last year. So it was really nice to get out there, mix it up a little bit with different people — (it) felt good to get some wins under the belt right away.

Viruet: It felt great to put our practice to work, everything that we’ve been working for since the end of last season. Some of us have been around (on campus) or traveling the country, going to the best clinics that we could possibly go to and see the best coaches that we can. We’ve done a great job of bringing in coaches ourselves, putting that practice to work and being able to see how our improvements have been gained. So it was a fun performance, but there are a lot of things to work on.

When did you first start wrestling?

LaFragola: I started in fourth grade-ish, and I’ve been doing it ever since. I started after my brother started up, and it kind of got me into it, so I’ve been doing it for a while.

Viruet: My brother is one grade above me, and we started it in our seventh and eighth grade years. We basically started competing with the traveling team, and got our bus work pretty much everywhere we went until we started grinding, becoming tougher and figuring out the sport ourselves. We were three-sport athletes, and eventually, we figured out what was going to be the best for us and our bodies to get to the next level ­— and that was wrestling. So we ended up committing to it in high school.

What has been your favorite memory of being on the wrestling team in your time at Brown?

LaFragola: For us last year, (Viruet and I) both got to nationals. I went there my sophomore year, but I didn’t have teammates with me, so (last year) it was me, (Viruet) and (Justin Staudenmayer ’18), and it was just a really great experience … to have your teammates out there. It just made the experience so much better to feed off each other. (Viruet) got a great win against a high-ranked, returning All-American and just set the tone for the three of us to go out there and follow him. It helped me as a wrestler, and it was just really fun to be out there with the best guys and get to show your stuff.

Viruet: I would say Nationals as well. Going out there being prepared as well as we were, getting an unprecedented win against a top-tier opponent was something we expected, but nobody else expected it of us. To gain the support that we did afterwards was phenomenal. To follow up with expectations for … this year, to be that much greater and to have our teammates and our coaches and all of the supporters of the program believing that we could excel to the next level — setting that benchmark and moving forward past that would be the best time I’ve had at Brown thus far.

Do you have any pre-match rituals?

LaFragola: I’m a big music guy. I like to mix it up. I used to play really hard stuff, and now I’ve been trying to tone it back a little. We learned from this sports psychologist that you’re not supposed to be cranked up all the time, so I’ve been trying to play calmer music in between. Then, 15 minutes before the match, I start building it up. It’s like a roller coaster with wrestling. At a tournament, you’ll have four or five matches in a day, so you can’t be all the way up top all of the time.

Viruet: About three matches before I’ll be up (to compete) at a tournament or dual meet, I like to get my heart rate up and do a few sprints. Outside of that, I listen to pretty typical music:  hip-hop, R&B and reggaeton, anything native to my culture. I listen to that prior to my warm-ups, and then five minutes out I’ll start changing to a lot calmer music. Specifically, I have one album that I listen to that is a Christian hip-hop album. I do that, and with about two minutes before my match every time, I’ll get a quick stretch in, say a little prayer and get ready to go.

What are your goals for your final season with the team?

LaFragola: Everyone’s goal is to get on the podium, and that’s it. It’s podium-or-bust, and we’ve got one more shot. We just have to leave it all on the mat, and whatever happens, happens. If both of us wrestle our best match, everyone’s in trouble. When we wrestle at 100 percent, I don’t care if (any opponent is) the national champion. If we bring our “A” game, we could compete with anybody in the nation — just wrestle our hardest and get on the stand.

Viruet: At this level, the only difference that separates the phenomenal wrestlers from the mediocre ones is intensity and mental toughness. Everyone trains the same way and has the same physical capabilities, outside of a few outliers that might have freak strength. So when we step up toe-to-toe against the best in the country, as long as we are prepared and stay healthy, we feel like we can compete with the best. That was proven last year and has been proven time and time again. We’ve beaten returning All-Americans and national qualifiers and can compete with the best. So the end goal of the season is to get on the podium or possibly at the top of the podium. I personally don’t think anyone is that much better than us in the country, so it comes down to being healthy and prepared for the match.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.