ACC Wrestling Championship Preview

Aaron Shields, TechSideline.com, on March 7, 2014
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The 60th ACC Wrestling Tournament returns to Blacksburg for the second time in tournament history on Saturday, March 8th. The Hokies are seeking to have a much stronger showing than in 2009, when they laid an egg in the finals, going 0-5 and paving the way for the Maryland Terrapins to take home the title.

Virginia Tech got their revenge at the ACC Tournament last year in Maryland’s own back yard, taking home the title for the first time in school history, edging out UVA by 0.5 team points, 95.5-95.0, making the ACC Championship that much sweeter. This year, Virginia Tech capped off another strong season finishing with an 18-5 dual record. Despite hosting the tournament, the Hokies face an uphill battle to repeat given the impact of graduation and injuries.

The 2014 Atlantic Coast Conference Wrestling Championship will be held this Saturday at Virginia Tech’s Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg.  Advanced tickets are available for $5 each through the link listed below through Friday. All tickets at the championship and online Saturday will be $10 each. ACC students with a valid student ID will be admitted free of charge. Tickets can be purchased at http://theacc.co/WRES14tix. Wrestling begins at 10 a.m., and all of the action will be available live on ESPN3.

There will be a free fan fest on Friday night and a free post tournament social on Saturday night.  Both events are being held in the South End zone of Lane Stadium.  The Hokie Mat Club tailgate dinner will start immediately after the Semi Final round, approximately 3:30.The food will be first come first serve basis. The tailgate will be in the parking lot across from Cassell of a Spring Road. There will be a $10 charge for food and drink at the tailgate.

Brackets can be found at http://news.theopenmat.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/2014ACCBrackets.pdf

Schedule

First Round and Quarterfinal Consolations 10 a.m.

Semifinals 1:30 p.m.

Semifinal Consolation 3:45 p.m.

Consolation Finals 5:30 p.m.

Finals 7:30 p.m

The Hokies are lacking a lot of firepower compared to last year. Jarrod Garnett (All-American, 3x ACC Champion), Jesse Dong (ACC Champion), Pete Yates (2x All American, 2x ACC Champion) and David Marone (ACC Champion) all graduated. These departures left the team with major point scoring holes to fill. The Hokies scored 9.5 bonus points in last year’s ACC Championship, with five of those bonus points coming from the seniors and 1.5 from Derrick Borlie, who left the team. Those bonus points make the difference in a tournament like the ACC Championship because the brackets only include seven teams and the placing is not as spaced out as in big tournaments.

Tech will be challenged to replace last year’s bonus points and will need to rely on Joey Dance, Dennis Gustafson, Zach Neibert, and Chris Penny to close the gap. As in football, staying healthy is critical and the Hokies have fought the injury bug all year. Devin Carter, former 5th place All-American and two-time ACC Champion, was out for most the year after tearing a hamstring at the Las Vegas Invitational. Before being injured, Carter was a monster and looked to finish in the top three in the country at worst. Carter will be wrestling in the ACC Tournament making a surprising comeback. Other losses include: Nick Brascetta, redshirting; Austin Gable, returning from a recent knee injury, and senior Chris Penny also nursing an injury. Erik Spjut jumped up to 141 to fill in for Carter while Tech burned the redshirt on the red hot Dennis Gustafson.

It will be a tough hill for the Hokies to climb in order to retain the status of ACC Champions, but they have proven they are capable if they can get healthy for tournament time. However,  Tech is fielding a young team with 4 freshmen (Dance, Gustafson, Mastriani, and Walz) who can struggle for consistency.

Although the inexperienced lower weights struggled early, the team really picked up the pace toward the end of the year and finished strong. They had good dual results over their ACC foes with their only losses coming from #10 Pittsburgh and #12 UVA in close matches. They lost to UVA 16-19 and Pittsburgh 14-19 with the difference in the score being the bonus points Tech gave up. Tech tore through the rest of the ACC. They thumped North Carolina 29-3, demolished Maryland with a score of 23-9 and used a 33-4 win over Duke as a warm up before going on to beat NC State at home 17-16. Although the team finished third in regular season standings, they have a great chance to take the ACC title at home. With the addition of reigning EWL Champion Pittsburgh into the ACC, the tournament has become much more competitive. Pittsburgh brings in seven top 20 wrestlers. However, I believe the individual tournament will fall in Tech’s favor.

My prediction– 1.) Pittsburgh 2.) Virginia Tech 3.) UVA 4.) Maryland 5.) NC State 6.) UNC 7.) Duke

ACC Automatic Qualifiers

125 – 3
133 – 2
141 – 5
149 – 4
157 – 2
165 – 2
174 – 3
184 – 4
197 – 5
285 – 4

Each year the NCAA sets a number of Automatic Qualifiers for each conference. The NCAA allocated 34 qualifying spots to the ACC this year. That is four more Automatic Qualifying spots than last year for the ACC. Should a wrestler not finish in an Automatic Qualifying position, they are still able to get into the NCAA Tournament with an at-large qualification. The expansion of the ACC is the result of the extra spots this year, as Pittsburgh made their conference debut.

Seven of Tech’s wrestlers appeared to have played into the determination of the spots allocated by their results from the year. Those wrestlers are Joey Dance, Dennis Gustafson, Zach Neibert, Chris Moon, Nick Vetterlein, Chris Penny, and Ty Walz. The Hokies need to finish in the top four in all but two weight classes to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. 133, 157, 165, and 285 will all be very difficult as the allocations for those weight classes are exceeded by the number of quality wrestlers.

Joey Dance, Devin Carter, Zach Neibert, Nick Vetterlein, and Chris Penny should all be locks to qualify. Dennis Gustafson has no room for error in the semi-finals, because only the top two qualify at 133. It will be intriguing to watch Devin Carter back in action and see how healed his hamstring is. He only needs to place in the top five to secure a trip to Oklahoma City for the NCAA Tournament. If Carter can pull of this amazing comeback, he will have an extra two weeks to continue to rehab the hamstring and prepare to make a run at once again becoming an All-American.

I’m disappointed that the ACC only got two spots at 157 because Immanuel Kerr-Brown of Duke is very tough and should have bumped the allocation to three spots at that weight class. Qualifying for the NCAAs will be difficult for Sal Mastriani since he now needs to pull off an upset against one of the wrestlers who beat him this year to get into the finals. However, Sal is an exciting wrestler who can pin (or get pinned) in a flurry of moves.

Chris Moon is another wrestler with no room for error. Although he is favored to make the finals, he will have a tough semi-finals match that may leave him hoping for an at-large bid. Austin Gable will have to turn it up after last week’s lackluster return to the mat. I don’t like his chances to make the tournament. Ty Walz will have to battle with four other very solid wrestlers for the top four. He will have to win a tough match, whether it’s the semifinals or consolation semifinals, to make the tournament.

Whatever happens, the future is bright for Virginia Tech Wrestling. Coach Dresser has 4 strong freshmen going this year (Dance, Gustafson, Mastriani & Walz), two determined returning All-Americans (Carter, Brascetta), two stud redshirts having a phenomenal season (Zack Epperly & Kevin Norstrem) and finally excellent incoming recruits (Zavatsky & Chishko). Coach Dresser and Coach Robie are doing an excellent job with the program.

Virginia Tech       

125 Joey Dance, 20th, RPI 13th

You could argue there is no one hotter entering the ACC Tournament than Joey Dance. It took Joey some time to acclimate to the weight cutting and intensity of D1 wrestling, but he seems to have come into his own of late. He knocked off #20 Nathan Kraisser of UNC. He was 3-1 at the National Duals including an upset over #12 Corey Kenner of Central Michigan. To cap off his season he demolished #17 Nick Roberts from Ohio State. Although Dance hit a slight plateau during the middle of the season, which may have been a result of the ankle injury that held him out of the Midlands Tournament, he has turned up the intensity and is almost untouchable right now. No doubt about it, he is 100% healthy and in the zone right now. He will enter the ACC Tournament as the #2 seed and is expected to bring home the title.

Projected first round match – #7 seed Calvin Campbell, Duke (no previous meeting)

133 Dennis Gustafson, RPI 23rd

Dennis Gustafson began the year redshirting, but Coach Dresser decided to pull the redshirt and throw Gustafson into action. Dennis is an explosive wrestler who will only get better as he improves his defense. He struggled in his very first collegiate match, but rebounded to go 4-2 in ACC Duals. The Duke and NC State weekend was the turning point where Gustafson started to catch fire. He not only beat a tough competitor in NC State’s Chris Wilkes, but he won by major decision of 13-4. He then went on to upset University of Chattanooga’s #11 Nick Soto 14-5. Gustafson will most likely enter the ACC Tournament as the #3 seed, but he has a great chance of qualifying for the NCAA tournament by an at-large selection.

Projected first round match- #6 seed Evan Botwin, Duke(last meeting Dennis Gustafson dec. Evan Botwin, 12-9)

141 Devin Carter

Devin Carter started out the season 12-0. Carter pinned #8 Tyler Small of Kent State at the Virginia Duals. He then went on to pin #11 Luke Vaith of Hofsta. ODU’s #9 Chris Mecate was no match either, as Carter won by decision 9-3. It appeared Devin Carter was on his way to a top four finish and earning All-American for the Second time, and then tragedy stuck. In the quarterfinals of the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, Carter sustained a complete avulsion of his hamstring from his pelvis while leading UVA’s #16 Joe Spisak 10-4. Carter went on to win the match 14-11 advancing into the semifinals, before dropping out of the tournament and finishing 6th. Carter had surgery to repair the hamstring on December 16th expecting a six-month rehabilitation. Carter completed the rehabilitation well under the time frame, being cleared this weak by surgeon Dr. Tony McPerron. No one is exactly sure what type of condition Carter is in or if he has full explosion or range of motion back in his leg. Due to the fact he has not wrestled enough matches and has remained inactive over a month, Carter did not earn an at large bid for the conference and will need to place top five to secure a spot at the NCAA Tournament. He has an excellent chance of not only placing top five, but completing an astonishing comeback and winning his 3rd ACC Championship if he is anywhere near 100% healthy. He will enter the tournament this weekend as the #1 seed.

Projected first round match – bye

149 Zach Neibert, #16 RPI, 16th

After earning All-American honors last year, Neibert went 19-7 this year.  Fighting through a shoulder injury, Neibert went 5-1 in ACC duals. He did not perform to the level many expected early on but is still the #2 seed. As is normal for Zach, he has heated up as the season moved on. His funky, scrambling style frustrates many opponents as he turns their offense into his scores. Neibert knocked off #11 Scott Sakaguchi of Oregon State 10-6 at the National Duals. His only loss in his last 11 matches was to #6 Chris Villalonga of Cornell by one point in overtime. He capped of the season strongly by beating Ohio State’s Jacob Bresciani with a major decision.

Projected first round match – #7 seed Connor Bass, Duke (no previous meeting)

157 Sal Mastriani

Mastriani went 10-10 in the season including a 3-3 record in ACC Duals as a freshman. He has had a really up and down year, but has pulled off a few surprising upsets. He pinned #5 Ian Miller of Kent State and TF’d Pitt’s Ronnie Garbinsky, 28-13. With Sal you never know what is going to happen, but it will be exciting and he will be going full tilt the whole time.  He finished the regular season in a big way by upsetting Randy Languis of Ohio State 4-3. Mastriani will enter the tournament at the #4 seed with a huge hurdle to clear in order to make the NCAA Tournament.

Projected first round match- #5 seed Jake Crawford UNC (last meeting Sal Mastriani (VT) dec. Jake Crawford, 8-6)

165 Chris Moon RPI 28th

Chris Moon went 5-1 in ACC duals and finished the year 18-6 overall. Being ranked a large portion of the year, Moon is the #2 seed. He had a very strong year that included a comeback win over NCSU’s Nijel Jones and a decisive victory over Ohio State’s Joe Grandominico 8-2. Moon doesn’t have a flashy style of wrestling, but he works hard and finds a way to win. I like his chances on making the finals and qualifying.

Projected first round match- #7 seed Max Rohskopf, NC State (no previous meeting)

174 Austin Gable

After qualifying for the NCAA Tournament last year as a freshman, many expected Gable to build off of that success. A defensive wrestler last year, Austin was building more offense into his wrestling before being sidelined most of the year after injuring his knee at the Las Vegas Invitational where he finished 7th. He wrapped up the year with a 11-5 record and 0-1 in ACC Duals. He lost 2-1 to #11 Mark Martin in his return to the mat in Columbus. Gable got a low seed at #5 and will have to fight his way into the NCAA Tournament once again.

Projected first round match – #4 seed Mathew Snook, Maryland (no previous meeting)

184 Nick Vetterlein, #17, RPI 13th

The senior went 22-7 on the year and 4-2 in ACC Duals. Vetterlein will enter the ACC Tournament as the #3 seed. He had a very solid year and proved he was one of the top 20 wrestlers in the nation. Nick is a physical beast that is at his best when he is being aggressive and using his double leg takedowns.  He lost a close match to #1 Jimmy Sheptock of Maryland on a takedown late in the 3rd period. He picked up a big win over #9 Jon Fausey of UVA 4-3. He finished the season with a 5-3 decision over Ohio State’s Josh Fox. I look for Vetterlein to not only qualify for the NCAA Tournament, but to avenge his early season loss to Sheptock in the finals. Vetterlein may very well earn his first ACC Title this year and don’t be too surprised when it happens.

Projected first round match – #6 seed Jacob Kasper, Duke- (no previous meeting)

197 Chris Penny, RPI 16th

Former ACC runner up Chris Penny finished the season 22-11. After going 4-2 in ACC Duals, he is the #3 seed. Chris is a senior that has shown tremendous improvement since his freshman year at VT. He has all of the tools to put it together if he doesn’t over think the match. Penny placed 5th at the Las Vegas Invitational, going 5-2 overall. He had a huge win over #8 Christian Boley of Maryland earlier in the year at home. He was ranked on and off all year long. Penny should cruise to the NCAA Tournament for the second time.

Projected first round match – #6 seed KaRonne Jones, NC State (last meeting KaRonne Jones dec. Chris Penny, 2-1)

285 Ty Walz RPI 25th

Walz went 22-11 and 4-2 in ACC Duals. He garnered the #4 seed. Walz had a great freshman year, but has lost some heat since. He started off the year with four straight wins. He also went on to upset #20 Ernest James of Edinboro 2-1 in overtime. Walz knocked off America’s #15 Blake Herrin 6-5. He didn’t lose until December at the Las Vegas Invitational. After such a hot start, Walz has struggled. His most disappointing match was losing 5-3 to Ohio State’s Nick Tavanello when the match was on the line. I predict Walz to do some soul searching and make the NCAA Tournament by earning a top four finish.

Projected first round match – #5 seed Ethan Hayes, UVA (last meeting Ty Walz  dec. Ethan Hayes, 9-7)

Predicted NCAA Tournament Qualifiers – 8 Automatic Qualifiers (Dance, Spjut, Neibert, Moon, Gable, Vetterlein, Penny, Walz) 1 At-Large Qualifier (Gustafson)

Probable Starters

Duke

125- Calvin Campbell
133- Evan Botwin
141-Xaviel Ramos
149-Connor Bass
157-Immanuel Kerr-Brown RPI 33rd
165-Marcus Cain
174-Trey Adamson
184-Jacob Kasper
197-Connor Hartmann #17 RPI 22nd
285-Brenden Walsh

UNC

125- Nathan Kraisser RPI 31st
133-Troy Heilmann RPI 33rd
141-Evan Henderson #10 RPI 7th
149-Christian Barber RPI 26th
157-Jake Crawford
165-John Staudenmayer
174-Scott Marmoll
184-Alex Utley RPI 16th
197-Frank Abbondanza
285-Bob Coe

Maryland

125-Paul O’Neil
133-Tyler Goodwin
141-Shyheim Brown RPI 21st
149-Frank Goodwin RPI 31st
157- Danny Orem
165-Josh Snook
174-Matthew Snook
184-Jimmy Sheptock #1 RPI 1st
197-Christian Boley #10 RPI 3rd
285-Spencer Myers #9 RPI 8th

NC State

125-Micah Perez
133-Brenden Calas
141-Sam Speno RPI 20th
149-Brian Hamann RPI 30th
157-Tommy Gantt RPI 16th
165-Mike Rohsopf
174-Pete Reneda #19
184-Michael Machiavello
197-KaRonne Jones
285-Nick Gwiazdowski #3 RPI 3rd

UVA

125-Nick Hermann RPI 24th
133-Joeseph Martinez RPI 31st
141-Joe Spisak #16 RPI 10th
149-Gus Sako #11 RPI 6th
157-Blaise Butler #14 RPI 13th
165-Nick Sulzer #2 RPI 8th
174-Stephan Doty
184-Jon Fausey #20 RPI 17th
197-Zach Nye RPI 17th
285-Ethan Hayes RPI 24th

Pitt

125-Anthony Zanetta #18 RPI 15th
133- Shelton Mack #20 RPI 21st
141-Edgar Bright #15 RPI 14th
149-Mikey Racciato RPI 20th
157-Ronnie Garbinsky RPI 19th
165-Geno Morelli RPI 32nd
174-Tyler Wilps #7 RPI 9th
184-Max Thomusseit #5
197-Nick Bonaccorsi #16 RPI 14th
285-Patrick Tasser #19 RPI 17th

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