Virginia Tech wrestling has a score to settle. Last week, the Hokies lost at No. 6 NC State 19-15, and looked on in agony as the Wolfpack celebrated the 2018 ACC Dual Championship.
NC State jumped out to an early 16-3 lead in the match, but the Hokies stormed out of intermission, winning the next four matches. The score was 16-15 heading into the final bout, and NC State’s Michael Boykin picked up an overtime victory over Andrew Dunn to seal the win for the Wolfpack. The loss snapped Virginia Tech’s 19-match win streak against ACC opponents.
“I think our young guys in certain situations didn’t go out and perform as well as they were capable of,” said Virginia Tech Head Coach Tony Robie. “We split five matches apiece. Giving up those bonus points was really critical in the outcome of the match. I felt like our guys went in and were ready. Give credit to NC State, they’ve got a good team. We knew it was going to take a great effort. We felt like we wrestled well enough to win and just kind of let it slip away.”
The fact that Virginia Tech and NC State wrestled to the wire in a thrilling, epic match shows how the tide is changing in ACC wrestling. NC State is currently ranked No. 6 and Virginia Tech is No. 10, exhibiting that the ACC can compete with the wrestling powerhouses in the Big 10.
“ACC wrestling has come a long way,” Robie said. “I’ve been here for 12 years in this conference, and I think just the excitement level and the following has really grown over the course of those years. That’s in large part to the success we’ve had and the success NC State is having and some other programs as well.”
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Despite the loss, a few wrestlers stood out for Virginia Tech. No. 18 Dennis Gustafson picked up the decision over No. 13 Tariq Wilson, 9-7 in the 133 weight class. No. 8 Zack Zavatsky narrowly defeated No. 3 Pete Renda in the 184 weight class, 3-2. It was the third time in four tries that Zavatsky has beat Renda, even though the rankings might indicate otherwise.
“Dennis wrestles a pretty exciting style,” Robie said. “He’s a fun guy to watch, I know our fans enjoy watching him. I’m definitely going to miss him next year. Dennis won an ACC Title as a freshman and hasn’t been able to come close to that in the previous two seasons. He’s got two tournaments left, the ACCs and the NCAA Tournament, and that’s the end of his college wrestling career. He definitely understands the urgency of it.
“The biggest thing for me was seeing Zack step out there in a pretty tough, pressure situation against a really good guy. He wrestled really well for the entire seven minutes. When he does that, he’s as good as anybody in the country. He’s improved greatly over the course of the last several months. He’s not the same guy as he was 12 months ago, that’s for sure.”
No. 4 David McFadden also put three points on the board for the Hokies, beating Brian Hamann in the 165 weight class, 6-2. McFadden finished the regular season with a perfect 29-0 record. Scott Justus was the last Virginia Tech wrestler to finish the regular season undefeated when he did so in the 2001-2002 season.
“David just has to focus on himself and continue to improve and not worry about who’s ranked where and who’s he going to wrestle in the quarterfinals or the semifinals,” Robie said. “He needs to take it one match at a time and just approach everything the exact same way. Just make sure when he steps out there that he’s ready to seize this opportunity, this moment and take advantage of it.”
Virginia Tech will get its chance to avenge the disappointment from this past Friday. Not only will the Hokies have their sights set on defeating NC State and the rest of the ACC competition, they’ll be looking to defend their ACC Championship from last year when they won it for the first time since 2014.
“We talk about it as a team how important winning an ACC Title is to our program,” Robie said. “Our guys understand that. We have banners on the wall and we’ve had a lot of success in the ACC in the past several years. I always say it’s kind of like fighting your neighbor. It’s really personal to me. It’s a much more personal tournament than the NCAA Championships just because we see these guys all the time and will continue to see them in the future.”
“It stung our guys and our staff losing that match in Raleigh in their building and having to see them celebrate. I think that’s going to stick with everybody. I think that’s motivation enough.”
The Hokies will need a complete effort out of all 10 wrestlers to add another banner to the wall. They’ll get that chance on March 3 at the ACC Championships in Chapel Hill.