Amid speculation swirling about coach Kevin Dresser’s future at Virginia Tech, the #5 Hokies grinded out a 22-15 victory over #6 Nebraska in the NWCA National Dual Meet. This was the Hokies’ first win against Nebraska in program history after losing the first three meetings, with the last happening in 2009.
“As far as our win tonight, what a great environment,” said Dresser. “I’ve obviously sat on the bench in a lot of dual meets, and to see what kind of effort we made, even guys like Kevin Norstrem, who just kind of got back in the lineup. Really good effort, we just have to get his gas tank bigger. You get a guy like Sal Mastriani that was just right there. We can’t have moral victories, but right there with the third ranked guy in the nation. This team is solid. This team is peaking. From a coaching standpoint, I take my hat off to my staff. I’m telling you, Robie, Zadick, St. John. They have done an unbelievable job of developing the talent that we’ve got there. It was super exciting. What a great crowd. You wrestle all that for a plaque. We said before in the standings that this match didn’t matter, but it did matter. It’s stepping out there and two guys scrapping and shaking hands for bragging rights.”
With four bouts remaining, the Hokies trailed 15-6 and all hope was seeming to vanish. In the 174 pound class, Zach Epperly was kept out with an injury. In his place, David Bergida stepped up from 165 and put on a gutty performance, picking up the 13-8 decision.
“It meant the world,” said Bergida. “I’ve been dying to get a big win in Cassell and I finally got it. It was my last match in Cassell too and to hear the crowd erupt meant a lot. I thought if I went out there and wrestled my match, whether it was at 165 or 174, that’s all I was really worried about, just wrestling my match.”
Bergida’s win set the standard for the final three matches to come as Zack Zavatsky won by fall, Jared Haught picked up a 3-2 overtime decision, and Ty Walz dominated from start to finish with a 14-5 major decision. Tech needed all four wrestlers to step up to the plate when it mattered, and they all delivered in a major way.
“That’s those guys in the lineup that have grinded over the years, especially David Bergida,” said Walz. “He went out and put on a show tonight. He deserves one like that. That’s the last match he’s going to wrestle in Cassell, and I’m sure he’s going to remember that for the rest of his life. Everything happens for a reason. It sucks not having Epperly out there because he is an imposing force, and he definitely helps from our powerhouse at 174 to heavyweight. That’s what a team is.”
In many ways, it was an emotional night not just because of the Dresser to Iowa State rumors, but also because it was the last time the seniors would wrestle in front of the Hokie Nation in Cassell Coliseum. On a night where the Hokies needed a little more motivation, the fans showed up in full force to cheer on the seniors one last time. Attendance was reported at 1,295.
“It’s actually unbelievable,” said Walz. “They are what makes it so exciting. We could go out there and there could be 10 people out there that all absolutely love us, and we’re still going to be jacked up just to show off and present what we work so hard for in front of those people. When we have those hundreds and thousands of people in the stands, it really makes the difference. You could feel it. It sucks when we have these late matches because then my energy is all gone and when I go to sleep at night I still imagine everyone yelling as I’m trying to go to sleep. They’re truly tremendous and honestly I cannot thank them enough because they have made my time here worth it and easy.”
The Hokies’ victory was really a testament to the team’s focus and locked-in mentality. With all the distractions that stood in the way, Tech could have easily been stagnant and wrestled below their standard. However, there appeared to be an extra boost in some of the matches which culminated in the victory. In fact, the Hokies have been at the top of their game all season long, especially as of late. They now lead Division I with 18 dual meet victories this year.
“We just focused on what we do individually,” said Zavatsky. “Let all that play out later on. We just went into the match and wanted to have a fun match for the crowd. We don’t get to wrestle in the National Duals here that often, so it was fun for a good team like Nebraska to come in. We just wanted to go out there and perform and worry about ourselves.
“They say whenever hard things come you can either get tough or go the other way. We’re just kind of moving forward and taking things day by day and looking forward to a good tournament in two weeks.”
“We have a group of professionals and I can say that very confidently,” said Walz. “We’ve set our huge goals and we plan on accomplishing them. There’s always that specific focus you have when you’re competing. Mostly it was just a little media distraction. As long as you put your phone down then nothing too crazy was going to be happening. The guys did what they needed to do. They stayed focused and you just stuck to your routine. Didn’t really change a thing.”
Kevin Dresser Talks About Iowa State
Tech’s win over Nebraska can certainly be seen as a stepping stone into greater things to come, but now the question shifts to whether Dresser will still be at the helm for postseason play or if he’ll move on to Iowa State. Dresser said he expects to make a decision Sunday night and it would be announced on Monday. He opened the press conference with a brief statement explaining the situation.
“Obviously I am the elephant in the room right now,” Dresser said. “I want to talk about the team win and that’s it, so I’m going to start out with just a real brief statement and then I will talk about wrestling and I won’t talk about anything else. Obviously I have to make a decision here in the next 24 hours. I have an opportunity and I am going to go home with my family and talk about that. The timing of it isn’t ideal, but sometimes the timing of opportunity isn’t going to be ideal. I’ve got some things to figure out tonight. I’m having a conversation later tonight with the Iowa State athletic director, so that’s that.”
If Kevin Dresser were to leave Virginia Tech for Iowa State, he would be inheriting an ISU program that has had their worst season since 1942-1943, as the Cyclones are just 1-12 this year. Dresser has the reputation of building programs, though, and that’s something he has done at Virginia Tech. Since he became head coach in 2006, Dresser quickly molded Virginia Tech into a national power, especially in the past five years. He’s guided the Hokies to two ACC Titles (2013 and 2014), and two official dual meet titles (2015 and 2016). In 2016, the Hokies finished a program-best 4th at the NCAA Championships.
Dresser expressed how hard a decision it will be considering all the positives he has encountered at Virginia Tech.
“Leaving this place? Oh my gosh, leaving this place?,” said Dresser. “This place is incredible, but I’m a quirky guy and I have goals. I’m not saying that Virginia Tech isn’t one of my goals, but I’m looking at a chance to go home. My mother lives 20 minutes and my brother lives 20 minutes from Iowa State. I haven’t gotten to spend a lot of time with my mother in the last couple years so that’s a factor. Obviously I have to have my family on board because that is the most important thing. There’s very few jobs I would ever consider, but that’s probably one of the two jobs I would consider. I grew up going to Iowa State matches when I was nine and ten years old in 14,000/15,000 seat arenas packed. I take pride in the fact that everywhere I have ever left, I left better and stronger. Virginia Tech is a national power in wrestling. That’s what I wanted when I took over. I made the statement on my very first press conference. I have to sit down and hang out with my family and make some decisions. I think you all agree that tonight was pretty special, but that’s just the kind of team we’ve got and the type of organization we’ve got.”
Dresser also took the time to express that he feels no ill-will toward Virginia Tech. The Virginia Tech athletic department put their trust in him when they offered him the job, and he has been nothing but grateful for all the support he has been given.
“I don’t know exactly where I am going with this yet, but it’s easy to point fingers and say Whit Babcock should have jumped up here, this and that,” Dresser said. “Let me tell you what, Whit Babcock has done a tremendous amount for Kevin Dresser. I know people want to start going down that direction. Everybody is looking to point fingers. Whit Babcock has been in my corner the day he got here. Jim Weaver was in my corner when he was running this place. I have been blessed to have this opportunity and things given to me, and ideas spread out. Can’t say enough great things about everyone involved. This isn’t a situation where Coach Dresser leaves because he’s unhappy. This would be a situation where Coach Dresser leaves because he maybe goes home and he maybe wants a challenge, a different kind of challenge. I’m a weird guy and I like challenges and I like building things, so I have to decide at the end of the night here if I’ve left this place in good enough hands and if I’m ready to build another castle.”
Whether Dresser is on the sidelines for the rest of the season or not, the Hokies still have high expectations. Expectations that include capturing the first National Championship in school history. Ty Walz summed up the team’s mentality going forward with ten simple words.
“We’re on fire and nothing is going to change that.”
125: No. 3 Joey Dance (VT) dec. No. 6 Tim Lambert (Neb.), 7-4
133: No. 4 Eric Montoya (Neb.) dec. Dennis Gustafson (VT), 6-2
141: No. 14 Colton McCrystal (Neb.) dec. Kevin Norstrem (VT), 12-5
149: No. 6 Solomon Chishko (VT) dec. Collin Purinton (Neb.), 8-5
157: No. 3 Tyler Berger (Neb.) dec. No. 15 Sal Mastriani (VT), 2-1 (TB-1)
165: Dustin Williams (Neb.) fall Ryan Blees (VT), 5:45
174: David Bergida (VT) dec. Justin Arthur (Neb.), 13-8
184: No. 6 Zack Zavatsky (VT) fall Eric Engler (Neb.), 4:44
197: No. 3 Jared Haught (VT) dec. No. 6 Aaron Studebaker (Neb.), 3-2 (TB-1)
HWT: No. 5 Ty Walz (VT) major decision No. 14 Collin Jensen (Neb.), 15-5
Kevin Dresser’s Record at Virginia Tech
2006-07: 6-12 overall, 1-4 ACC
2007-08: 7-9 overall, 2-4 ACC
2008-09: 20-2 overall, 5-0 ACC
2009-10: 17-5 overall, 4-0 ACC
2010-11: 20-4 overall, 5-0 ACC
2011-12: 8-6 overall, 4-1 ACC
2012-13: 16-3 overall, 5-0 ACC (league champs)
2013-14: 18-5 overall, 4-2 ACC (league champs)
2014-15: 14-2 overall, 5-0 ACC (dual meet champs)
2015-16: 16-2 overall, 5-0 ACC (dual meet champs)