The Virginia Tech wrestling team continued to shine at the 2014 NCAA Wrestling Championship in Oklahoma City, where the team placed a program best 8th place with 49.0 points. The team finished in the top ten for the second year in a row after finishing in tenth place last year. Virginia Tech finished with three All-Americans this year: Joey Dance, Devin Carter, and Chris Penny. On top of the best team finish in program history, Devin Carter became the first NCAA finalist for the Hokies.
After a disappointing ACC tournament in which 125 lb. freshman Joey Dance finished third, he rebounded in a huge way. Dance shocked the world finishing fourth and earning All-American honors. En route to a fourth place finish, #16 seed Dance knocked off three highly seeded wrestlers: #5 Dylan Peters (Northern Iowa), #6 Jarrod Patterson (Oklahoma), and #7 Bradley Taylor (Wisconsin). His only losses in the tournament were to the eventual 125 lb. champion, Jesse Delgado (Illinois), and third place finisher Nico Megaludis (Penn State) – both matches ended in an unfavorable 6-1 score. The 2014 NCAA Wrestling Championship capped off an excellent freshman season for Joey Dance, who looks to have a promising career at Virginia Tech.
Devin Carter completed one of the most amazing comebacks in the history of wrestling. 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 and advancing into the semifinals, before dropping out of the tournament and finishing in sixth place. Carter had surgery to repair the hamstring on December 16th expecting a six-month rehabilitation.
Carter completed the rehabilitation well before the time frame and was cleared in time for the ACC Championships by surgeon Dr. Tony McPerron. No one was exactly sure what type of condition Carter was in or if he had full explosion ability or range of motion back in his leg. After tearing through the competition for his third ACC title, Devin Carter earned the #4 seed at the NCAA Wrestling Championship. There were still questions swirling about Carter’s conditioning and sharpness going into the tournament.
After knocking off the rust in his first two matches, Carter got his first real test against #12 Richard Durson (Franklin & Marshall) in the quarterfinals. Durson, who is a tough opponent, knocked off #5 Chris McCate (ODU) in the previous round. Durson took an early lead 3-0 before Carter used a takedown in both the second and third periods to win 4-3. Carter then got a little help when fellow ACC wrestler Evan Henderson (UNC) took out #1 seed Michael Port (Edinboro). Carter then rolled through Henderson, who he had never lost to, 12-3 become Virginia Tech’s first ever NCAA finalist for wrestling. Devin Carter fell in the finals to three time national champion, Logan Stieber (OSU). But he pulled off an unimaginable comeback to win his third ACC title, make the NCAA Finals, and become a two time All-American.
If there was an award for most improved wrestler, it would be awarded to senior Chris Penny, who made a Cinderella run of his own rounding out Virginia Tech’s All-American’s. Penny, who finished his freshman season with a 3-14 record, surprised everyone by winning his first ACC title at 197 lbs. two weeks ago in Blacksburg. Then, after defeating Nick Bonaccorsi (Pitt) for the second consecutive time, #16 seed Chris Penny he pulled off an upset over #3 Morgan McIntosh (Penn State). He wasn’t done there. Penny went on to beat favored #11 Nathan Burak (Iowa) 6-3 in his next match earning All-American honors and a trip to the semifinals. Penny lost to eventual 197 lb. National Champion #2 J’den Cox (Missouri) and finished in sixth place after a medical default. It was nice to see a selfless wrestler like Chris Penny finish his career on the medal podium Saturday night at the NCAA Wrestling Championships.
At 149 lbs., #10 seed Zach Neibert also made the quarterfinals after upsetting rival #7 Gus Sako (UVA). With a chance for the senior to join Devin Carter and make the NCAA Finals, Neibert lost 4-2 to #15 Mitchell Minotti (Lehigh). Neibert then went on to fall in overtime to James English (Penn State) failing to earn All-American honors. Neibert finished his career at Virginia Tech 88-39 overall as the 2014 ACC Champion and an All-American in 2013. Neibert’s 88 career wins are 13th most in program history.
133 lb. Dennis Gustafson and 174 lb. Austin Gabel both went 1-2. Teammates 165 lb. Chris Moon and 285 lb. Ty Walz finished 2-2. All four wrestlers scored points for the team, helping to boost Virginia Tech into eighth place in the tournament. Eight out of the nine NCAA qualifiers for the team scored team points, with the only wrestler who failed to score points for the Hokies being #16 seed Nick Vetterlein.
Just seven years ago, the school was considering canning the wrestling program at Virginia Tech when the Brands brothers left as head and assistant coaches. Head coach Kevin Dresser turned the ship around with the Hokies showing progress every year under him. “It’s a step for the program and it continues to be steps. I know we have a lot of hungry guys next year who sure want to be better than eighth. Right now, I take my hat off to these guys. They are the best team in Virginia Tech wrestling history and I told them that in the motel room before we came over,” said coach Dresser in response to the team’s high finish. This year was the best overall NCAA Wrestling Championship performance in program history as a team. Next year’s team looks to be just as promising, if not better, as the Hokies look to build off of their recent success.