VT Wrestling: Kill Bill (Brill), Volume 2

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VT wrestling coach
Tom Brands (front),
pictured here as an assistant at Iowa.

By now, the words of former Roanoke Times Sports Editor
Bill Brill, are infamous: “Tech will not win an ACC championship in my
lifetime.” As the Tech football team rallied to win an ACC championship in
their first year, Hokies around the commonwealth expressed heartfelt sympathy
for Mr. Brill, who certainly must have just passed away.

Hokie athletes in other sports did what they could to show
how wrong Brill’s appraisal of Tech sports is, and always has been. In the
first-ever ACC game for any Hokie sport, the women’s soccer team knocked off
Maryland 2-0 and ended the season by earning an at-large bid to the NCAA
tournament. Women’s basketball followed in their footsteps by winning its
first-ever ACC game by beating then-17th-ranked Maryland. The swimming and
diving teams won 5 of its first 6 ACC dual meets, men’s soccer beat #1 Duke
and #2 Virginia during the season, and the men’s basketball team just notched
two straight wins over ACC foes with stunning last-second victories over Clemson
and NC State. Also the Men’s Track & Field team is ranked #23 in the
nation.

But in case the curmudgeonly Brill – or
any other elitist who thought the Hokies didn’t belong in the conference – is
still hanging on to his misconceptions, the wrestling squad opened their first
ACC dual meet with a dominating performance over Virginia, trouncing them 32-0,
then followed up by beating Duke this past weekend to gain sole possession of
first place in the ACC. Hmm, this is beginning to sound familiar…a team that
supposedly didn’t belong beats two of the conference’s top teams (UVA and
Duke finished second and third last year) to rise to the top of the standings.
Is it possible that Bill Brill could have been that wrong? Might the
Hokie faithful have to dig up Brill’s casket and bury him again?



Over the past three years, Hokie grapplers only won a
total of 11 dual meets while competing in the Eastern Wrestling League, but this
year they have already won 10. Tech has taken on a grueling schedule, traveling
around the country to face some of the nation’s top teams. Their only losses
this year have been on the road against ranked opponents: #9 Iowa, #13 Missouri,
#17 Northern Iowa, and #23 Tennessee-Chattanooga. As with basketball, where
facing top competition during the season prepares a team to peak during the NCAA
tourney, the Hokies’ competitive schedule should give them a serious edge on
ACC competition. To date, Tech has wrestled 12 dual matches out of conference;
the rest of the six-team conference has competed in 18 OOC matches combined,
with the highest amount by any other school being 6 matches.

When the Hokies moved to the ACC, Virginia Tech Athletic
Director Jim Weaver made a conscious decision to put considerable backing behind
the wrestling program. In addition to the financial expenses of the expanded
national schedule, Tech hired one of the nation’s top coaches, Tom Brands, to
lead the Hokies on the mats. Brands was named the 2002 and 2003 Freestyle Coach
of the Year and is a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. As an
assistant coach at Iowa, Brands helped the Hawkeyes win seven NCAA team and 23
individual titles.

Before coaching, he was one of the nation’s top
wrestlers. He was a four-time All-American wrestler for perennial powerhouse
Iowa. From 1990-92 he was a three-time NCAA Division I champion and was named
Outstanding Wrestler of the 1992 NCAA Championships. After college, Brands won
four U.S. Nationals titles (1993-96), two World Cup gold medals (1994 and 1995),
an Olympic gold medal (1996), and was named the 1995 Pan American Games
champion. Coach Brands is being considered for the NCAA 75th Anniversary Team.

The addition of such an important figure in the wrestling
world to Virginia Tech was a huge step forward for the program, but Brands added
yet more credibility by hiring two assistant coaches who were also tops in the
nation, Wes Hand and Doug Schwab. Schwab was a three-time All-American and the
1999 NCAA Champion at 141 pounds, while Hand was the 2001 NCAA runner-up at the
heavyweight spot.

As Kevin Costner says in Field of Dreams, “If you
build it, they will come.” The saying holds true no matter what the sport (or
whether you’re talking about real athletes instead of ghosts in a cornfield).
Brands signed his first recruiting class this past November, and it is Tech’s
best recruiting class ever. InterMat rates it in the top five nationally,
including one wrestler (Brent Metcalf) who they say might be the best in the
nation. The others in the early signing class are Jay Borschel, Daniel LeClere,
T.H. Leet, and Joey Slaton. (For more news on each of these recruits, visit
http://www.hokiesports.com/wrestling/recaps/11232004aaa.html). 

These recruits won’t enroll until the fall of 2005, but
one wrestler who came to Tech because of the new coaching staff is already
making an impact. After wrestling two seasons at the University of Pennsylvania,
Junior Mike Faust transferred to Tech. He redshirted last year to train for the
Olympics, and though he didn’t travel to Athens, he did place sixth at the
Olympic Trials. This year he is ranked #19 in the nation in his weight class.
Currently, only two ACC teams have wrestlers ranked in InterMat’s Top 20
Individual Standings: North Carolina has 1 wrestler (Evan Sola, #9 at 133
pounds) and VT has 3 (David Hoffman, #8 at 133 pounds; Chris Stith, #20 at 165
pounds; and Mike Faust, #19 at 285 pounds).

Giving their all:
Tech wrestler Mike Faust shows off
his damaged, swollen ear, a common condition for
wrestlers, at a VT football game last fall.

NC State will be the true litmus test for the wrestling
program. The Wolfpack has won three of the last four ACC Wrestling
Championships, including last year’s. As with football, which finished with a
showdown between Tech and Miami, the final ACC match scheduled this year will be
between the conference’s top two teams when Tech travels to NC State on
February 19. Tech and NC State faced each other earlier this season in the Navy
Classic, where Tech finished second with 152 points and NC State finished third
with 126. If Tech can knock off NC State, they are in good position to win their
second championship in their first season in the league. They are already poised
to become the dominant power in ACC wrestling for years to come.

Poor Bill Brill. He must be rolling over in his grave.

NOTE: If you wish to see Virginia Tech on the mats this
year, your last chance to see them in an ACC match at home is this Saturday
(Jan. 22) when they host the University of Maryland. Match time is 5 p.m. in
Cassell Coliseum. They have one more match at home after that on Feb. 12 against
North Carolina-Greensboro.

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