The fearsome foursome of Zach Epperly, Zack Zavatsky, Jared Haught, and Ty Walz have been counted on to seal the deal throughout the entire season, but it was a different story on Sunday. Instead, the middleweights of Solomon Chishko, Sal Mastriani and David Bergida rose to the challenge and captured the 26-13 victory for Virginia Tech against Duke.
The dual meet started off with the 184 weight class as the first bout instead of the 125 weight class. Heading into the final four bouts, the Hokies were locked in a 13-13 tie with the Blue Devils. Chishko won a key major decision (22-9), then Mastriani (8-3) and Bergida (8-4) each won by decision to extend the Hokies’ unbeaten record in ACC play.
“Hats off to Sal Mastriani and David Bergida for stepping in there when the pressure was on,” said head coach Kevin Dresser. “Solomon Chishko, wow. Those guys stepping in there when the pressure was on.”
The Hokies were coming off a hard fought 21-15 win at #10 Lehigh on Friday. The fatigue from that match and the traveling involved might have contributed to the slow start for Virginia Tech.
“We knew it was going to be a tough Duke team,” Dresser said. “We kind of set ourselves up schedule wise for a tough weekend. We’ve been on a bus for 14 hours this weekend already with Lehigh and back from Lehigh on Thursday and Friday and getting back Saturday morning at 4 a.m. Maybe that’s a little bit on me in terms of not getting ideal scheduling, but we have to understand as a team that winning at the highest level is never ideal. You have to battle through some things. So we battled through some things today, and I thought some other guys did a good job there.”
One of the guys who bounced back was senior Joey Dance in the 125. Dance suffered his first loss of the season Friday night against No. 8 Darian Cruz of Lehigh. He responded on Sunday with a commanding 18-4 major decision.
“Going into the whole match it was just about scoring points,” said Dance. “That kid was being stingy at first, wrestling on one knee just like the Lehigh kid did. That’s something I need to kind of capitalize on, guys on a knee I need to go ahead and get on their head. That’s what I did to get to my offense, and I feel like it would have been a different match [against Lehigh] if I actually wrestled like I did tonight.”
In one of the more highly contested bouts of the day, Duke’s Jacob Kasper (No. 5) defeated Ty Walz (No. 2) by major decision, 15-7. Kasper’s emergence this year looks to set up a likely rematch in the ACC Final with Walz.
“Hats off to the Duke heavyweight,” Dresser said. “He’s ranked fifth in the nation. He was a 184 pounder two years ago. He won a big tournament over the holidays that kind of put him on the map. We underestimated him a little bit, but we’ll get a chance to see that match again in the ACC Finals in a month.”
On paper, it may seem like a normal match, but anyone who has been inside the walls of the Moss Arts Center knows that it is no normal wrestling environment. Since it opened in 2013, the Moss Arts Center has provided an unquestioned advantage for the Hokies. In fact, Virginia Tech is now 7-0 at the Moss Arts Center.
“It’s a great environment,” Dresser said. “It’s very unique. Maybe we need to schedule Penn St. here next year. The staff does a great job here, our athletic department does a great job here. We have a lot of bells and whistle, a lot of pretty girls jumping around, and that’s what people want to come and see.”
Looking ahead, the Hokies finish ACC play against their toughest competitor, No. 8 NC State That match on February 11 should provide a good litmus test for Virginia Tech before they head into tournament play. At the same time, the Hokies realize that there are still plenty of battles that lie ahead.
“Any match we go in, we always think that the other team is ranked No. 1 or No. 2,” Dance said. “We don’t want to go in thinking they’re just going to lay down for you. None of these college teams are going to do that.”
“There’s peaks and valleys in a four and half month season,” said Dresser. “We’ve been able to get our hand raised as a team 16 times and we lost one dual meet, so we’ve put ourselves in a position to wrestle for an ACC Title.”
Virginia Tech’s victory over Duke is a heavy indication that they’re locked and loaded for the grind that awaits them.