Sponsored by The Southeast Regional Training Center (SERTC): The SERTC is critical to the success of the Virginia Tech Wrestling program. Our goal is to continue to grow the SERTC and add at least one more athlete/coach this season. In order to do so, we need all Hokies to get on board! Your donation can make a huge difference. Click here to learn more and to donate today!
Virginia Tech wrestling is on the doorstep of a new beginning, and ”new beginning” doesn’t fully describe just how transformative the 2017-2018 season will be for the program.
Tony Robie, who’s been at Virginia Tech since 2006, is entering his first year as head coach. Assistants Jared Frayer and Frank Molinaro are new to Blacksburg, and Tech must replace four All-Americans from last season’s lineup.
For Robie, putting things in place has already begun. After accepting the head coaching position in March, Robie immediately got to work on not only preparing this year’s squad, but building up the Southeast Regional Training Center (SERTC).
“Our efforts with the Southeast Regional Training Center have been well received,” Robie said. “We started this Donor-a-Day campaign, we’ve done some advertising with you guys, we’ve done some advertising in some other avenues. We’ve really come a long way in accomplishing our goal.”
The Donor-a-Day campaign, which sponsors TechSideline.com, has brought in roughly 20 new donors to the SERTC. Those donations helped Robie add another resident athlete in Tyler Graff. He joins Ty Walz in not only representing the SERTC at national and international competitions, but in assisting in coaching Virginia Tech’s student-athletes. Graff was a four-time All-American at Wisconsin, and was named Pan-American Champion and Outstanding Wrestler for 2017.
“Coach Graff is really exactly what we want him to be,” Robie said. “He comes in, he’s a workhorse, he just sets an example with the way he works, lives and trains and approaches his wrestling.”
Graff and Walz assist Frayer and Molinaro, who are in their first season as assistants for Virginia Tech wrestling. So far, the former Olympian (Frayer) and former national champion (Molinaro) are meshing well with the team.
“I just think that they have a lot in common with the guys on our team,” Robie said. “Their mentality, their personalities, even in terms of their wrestling style, gel with the guys that we have that are existing team members. They’ve been really an asset in recruiting as well.”
In the early going, Frayer and Molinaro have sought to create a better atmosphere at practices. The two haven’t lightened the workload, but they’ve been able to bring some fun and joy to the process.
“I’ll say this much, I think our guys enjoy being in here more than they have been in the past. I think they have more fun,” Robie said. “I think that there’s a lot of trust between our athletes and our coaches. I think that makes the day-to-day — I just think the guys enjoy being around (the coaches).”
Robie, Frayer and Molinaro have their work cut out for them. Those four All-Americans — Joey Dance at 125 pounds, Sal Mastriani at 157 pounds, Zach Epperly at 174 pounds and Ty Walz at 285 pounds — aren’t suiting up to wrestle for the Hokies any time soon. Those four weight classes are all up for grabs at this point. Whoever steps up will be young, but talented nonetheless.
“I think that they’re young, and that’s the biggest thing,” Robie said. “I think they’re guys that are going to have a lot of potential, but one thing is, and we talk about this as a team a lot, and we were just talking the other day about how you can get better if you just have a great attitude, you work hard every day over the course of five years. That’s a long time.”
There are a few returners that the Hokies will count on heading into their 2017-2018 season. Redshirt-junior Solomon Chishko is a two-time All-American and will wrestle at 149 pounds. Redshirt-sophomore David McFadden was ACC Freshman of the Year and an All-American at 165 pounds last season. Redshirt-junior Zack Zavatsky is a two-time ACC Champion at 184 pounds. Redshirt-senior Jared Haught is a two-time All-American at 197 pounds. Those four wrestlers will anchor a young team with high, yet realistic expectations.
“I’m comfortable with what we have, but I’m also aware of what we have,” Robie said. “Every year is a different year and I think as a coach, you have to be able to recognize that, and recognize when you have five new guys in your lineup that it’s not going to be the same. You don’t have Joey Dance and Ty Walz starting and ending your dual meets, so we have work to do. There’s no question about it. Right now, part of the process is making sure our guys are getting their weight under control and that their weight is in a good place.”
The season kicks off soon. Virginia Tech wrestling will host Stanford on Nov. 4, and that match should prove a worthy first test for the almost entirely new program.
“We’ll see here soon, kind of where we’re at,” Robie said. “We’re a really young team this year. We graduated four All-Americans. We’re going to have as many as five new faces in our lineup this year that people have never seen wrestle consistently. So, there’s an unknown to that.”