Virginia Tech wrestling defied the odds at the ACC Championships to knock off NC State, who defeated the Hokies just weeks prior to win the ACC Dual Meet championship. With their second straight ACC title under their belt, the Hokies are poised to compete this weekend at the NCAA Championships in Cleveland.
“Obviously really proud of the way our guys competed, and our staff prepared, the 10 guys that wrestled at the ACC Championships a couple weekends ago,” said head coach Tony Robie. “I don’t think a lot of people picked us to win, but I felt like we went in really prepared. I felt like our staff did an unbelievable job getting our guys to believe in themselves, just making sure we were ready to compete.”
The NCAA Tournament is the culmination of an uphill battle for the Hokies this season. With several freshmen in the starting lineup, Virginia Tech broke through their preseason expectations and came within one match of winning the ACC Dual Meet title at NC State on Feb. 16.
“We knew we were going to be young,” Robie said. “We had five freshmen in the lineup for us. We’re taking four of those guys to the NCAA Tournament. I think it’s a testament to our guys and buying into the new coaching staff, some new philosophies and maybe some new ways of doing some things.
“I just think it’s a constant process of developing guys, technically and physically,” Robie said. “As much as anything, mentally. I think that’s probably where we made the most gains. For our guys individually, just making sure they believe in themselves. And also, just tweaking their wrestling. It’s an ongoing process and it never ends.”
Now, Virginia Tech has a real chance to do some damage in the NCAA Championships. The Hokies are sending nine wrestlers to the tournament. Kyle Norstrem at 125 pounds, No. 9 Dennis Gustafson at 133 pounds, Brent Moore at 141 pounds, No. 12 Ryan Blees at 149 pounds, No. 2 David McFadden at 165 pounds, Hunter Bolen at 174 pounds, No. 6 Zach Zavatsky at 184 pounds, No. 3 Jared Haught at 197 pounds and Andrew Dunn at 285 pounds are all competing for Virginia Tech.
“It does help you, but at the end of the day you’ve got to have guys scoring points for you,” Robie said. “Out of the nine guys that we’re taking, five of them are seeded, three of them are taken in the top-six. So you have to have point scorers there. The approach with these young guys — Andrew Dunn and Kyle Norstrem, neither of those guys won a match at the ACC Tournament, so they’ve got to go in there and be ready to compete and not just be happy being in the NCAA Tournament.
“I think we have all winnable matches early in the event. But this event is about going out and making it happen as an individual, regardless of who you’re competing against, what round it’s in. You just have to focus on yourself and make sure you’re prepared both physically and mentally. When you step on the mat, you have to have the mentality that you’re going to win.”
Virginia Tech even has a chance to have it’s first wrestling national championship at the individual level. Two-seed David McFadden and three-seed Jared Haught are both highly-seeded and are national competitors, and Robie is confident in their chances to succeed.
“For us as a program and as a staff, that was definitely high on our goal list this year and I think we’re in a position with more than one guy,” Robie said. “They can accomplish that this year. The road’s never going to be the same, never going to just fall into place. We feel like we have some athletes that are at that level where if they wrestle well, they have a very good chance of bringing home an NCAA Championship to Blacksburg.”
The NCAA Championships will begin on Thurs., March 15 at 12 p.m. The event will culminate in the final session at 8 p.m. on Sat., March 17, when the national finals will be held.