The Virginia Tech wrestling team has set some lofty expectations as they have entered the season ranked No. 6 in the country. On Sunday afternoon, the Hokies proved worthy of that ranking with a decisive 29-6 victory over No. 24 Chattanooga to improve to 3-0 on the year.
“I think we progressed,” said coach Kevin Dresser. “It’s still early in the year, and after last weekend I felt we were just so-so average. I would rate us above that overall as a team. When you’re putting 10 guys out on the mat, you have kind of mixed feelings. We’re feeling good about certain weights, and other weights we haven’t attacked enough.”
Competing in front of a raucous environment at the sold out Moss Arts Center, Joey Dance got the afternoon started for Virginia Tech in the 125 weight class with a major decision over Alonzo Allen, 18-5. In the 149, Solomon Chishko followed with a major decision of his own, 15-3. Sal Mastriani picked up the lone technical fall victory for Virginia Tech on the day in the 157, defeating Trey Watson, 22-4. Zach Epperly also won by major decision in the 174, beating Sean Mappes, 14-6, and Ty Walz closed out the match in the heavyweight class with a 13-7 decision.
For Walz, it took a strong finish in the third period to secure the decision. Walz, the No. 3 heavyweight, entered the third period in a 5-5 deadlock with the No. 11 heavyweight, Jared Johnson. However, Walz powered ahead, seemingly wearing out Johnson en route to the 13-7 decision.
“That’s how we’re supposed to win,” Walz said. “We want to blow it out towards the end, towards the third period, and that’s where the tougher and the better wrestler at that time should really take advantage of our conditioning and hopefully score a lot of points in the third period. That’s how we want to win.”
In one of the more highly contested matches of the afternoon, Zack Zavatsky picked up the 2-1 decision over Bryce Carr in the 184 weight class. Zavatsky pointed to the fact that Chattanooga had several members on their coaching staff who were familiar with the Hokies and their system. Chattanooga’s assistant coach David Hoffman had spent the last four years as an assistant coach for Virginia Tech, and the Mocs’ coordinator of student-athlete development, Nick Brascetta, was a member of the Hokies’ wrestling team last year, where he was a three-time All-American.
“I’m sure their coaches, they were coaching us last year some of them, so I’m sure they told him stuff I’m good at,” Zavatsky said. “He was just keeping his distance with his post hand and not really pressuring into me. It’s tough trying to chase a guy around the mat the entire time, but I just have to work in different positions where I’m not really used to right now. I just have to keep working at that.”
In the first of two matches this year at the Moss Arts Center, the Hokie Nation came out in numbers, providing an undisputed advantage for the team. The Moss Arts Center provides a unique environment with the mat elevated on the stage and the crowd volume echoing off the theater walls. In fact, the Hokies are now 6-0 in matches inside the Moss Arts Center since it opened in 2013.
“I think our guys really like wrestling here,” Dresser said. “In fact, I know they really like wrestling here. We obviously see a different side from the fans. Maybe sometime I’ll sit out there and see what it looks like. We sure could hear them, that’s for sure, and I know it was sold out so that’s a neat environment. We’re going to keep this thing going. We’re 6-0 at the Moss in three years now, so we’re going to keep that going.”
“It [Moss Arts Center] still didn’t lose its magic,” said Waltz. “It’s still fun. I think it’s the most unique environment I’ve ever wrestled in and it’ll definitely be something I’ll remember for the rest of my life, competing here. I think it’s good for wrestling too and good for guys on our team. Hopefully, younger kids looking up can come to our matches here and be like, ‘Wow, I want to wrestle on this stage some day.’”
Looking ahead, the Hokies certainly have their hands full with two matches on the road, competing against Northern Iowa on Friday and Missouri on Sunday. Northern Iowa is currently ranked No. 23 in the nation, while Missouri is the class of the MAC, ranked No. 5. One of the matchups to watch for in the upcoming weekend is the 197 where No. 3 Jared Haught will go up against Missouri’s J’den Cox, the defending NCAA champion.
“We haven’t really been tested, but we’ll get tested on Friday and we’ll get tested on Sunday, so that’s the main thing,” said Dresser. “We have to progress, we have a short week to train, and we need to have a couple good days. We’ll really know where we’re at during this press conference on Sunday in Columbia, Missouri.”
“That’s definitely our biggest test yet, and that’s when we’ll see where we’re at nationally and where guys are at on our team,” said Walz. “That’ll be a true test for everybody on our team, not just some guys individually, but as a whole team. It’ll be a really close match and a good one too. We can really see what we’re made of.”
Virginia Tech left an imprint inside the Moss Arts Center on Sunday, but the Hokies have more work to do next weekend. Until then, the Dresser and company will look to continue raising the bar.
125: Joey Dance (VT) maj dec. Alonzo Allen, 18-5
133: Chris Debien (UTC) dec. Dominic Latona, 10-5
141: Dennis Gustafson (VT) dec. Roman Boylen, 8-4
149: Solomon Chishko (VT) maj dec. Dylanger Potter, 15-3
157: Sal Mastriani (VT) tech fall Trey Watson, 22-4 (5:45)
165: Justin Lampe (UTC) dec. Mike Ciavarro, 3-1
174: Zach Epperly (VT) maj dec. Sean Mappes, 14-6
184: Zack Zavatsky (VT) dec. Bryce Carr, 2-1
197: Jared Haught (VT) dec. Clay Dent, 6-1
HWT: Ty Walz (VT) dec. Jared Johnson, 13-7