David McFadden wanted to make sure that his senior year as a part of the Virginia Tech wrestling team was special.
Yes, the three-time All-American has his sights set on a National Championship — and it’s even a constant reminder upon the entrance into the wrestling training facility where a clock counts down to the NCAA Tournament — but he wanted something else to set apart his final season as a Hokie.
One fall afternoon while watching a Virginia Tech soccer match from Thompson Field, an idea began to ignite.
“I sent [head coach Tony] Robie a picture,” McFadden said. “I said, ‘Hey, it’d look nice for a wrestling match out here on Thompson Field.’”
Unbeknownst to McFadden, Robie was already multiple steps ahead of him.
“He was like, ‘I got a big surprise. We’re thinking of doing this against Northwestern or Missouri on the baseball field,’” McFadden said. “I checked out this place and I was like, ‘You know what, that would look pretty cool.’”
This article is sponsored by The Southeast Regional Training Center (SERTC). The SERTC is creating Olympic wrestling opportunities! Assist us in attracting the best recruits in the nation! Your support and contributions will help bring more OLYMPIC HOPEFUL training partners and mentors to Blacksburg, Virginia. Click here to learn more and to donate today!
And so on Sunday afternoon from English Field at Atlantic Union Bank Park, No. 11 Virginia Tech defeated No. 21 Northwestern 21-18 in the Mat on the Mound meet.
“It was a home run across the board,” Robie said.
2,946 fans filled the bleachers and the terrace area down the left field line to see Virginia Tech wrestling wrestle outside for the first time in program history.
“I came in here two years ago for a baseball game and it just looked perfect for where we’re at and the crowds we get and our fanbase,” Robie said. “It’s the perfect outdoor venue for a wrestling match at Virginia Tech. We’ve been talking about it for a long time and we just started to put the wheels in motion eight weeks ago.
“A lot of people had to buy in to pulling this thing off. JC Whidden, our marketing person, she deserves a lot of the credit. Tucker Davidson, my director of operations, Ethan Aguigui, they put a lot of planning into this event. The facilities. It was relatively quick.”
It wasn’t a foreign concept to see a team wrestling outside in a different venue. Most notably, Iowa took on Oklahoma State in 2015 from the gridiron at Kinnick Stadium. That being said, Robie and Co. knew the idea would be unique and create a buzz for the benefit of the program and its fans.
“I think it’s great for our fans, and we have a great fanbase here,” Robie said. “We want to make sure we continue to do things like this to keep people involved and interested. We draw pretty good crowds here, relatively speaking, compared to other sports. For me, it’s always trying to find new ways to get new people involved, keep the people that we have involved. They’re very excited about Virginia Tech wrestling, so they continue to support us in a lot of different ways – financially, showing up at matches, just being a part of it.”
In the past, Hokies wrestling has strayed from the norm with duals inside the Moss Arts Center since 2015, a tradition that will continue this year for senior night on February 8 against Duke. It’s one of the more noteworthy environments across the wrestling landscape, but the Hokies may have found another venue that could be an annual part of the schedule.
“I love Moss,” McFadden said. “I wish we could wrestle every dual in Moss just because it’s loud, it’s awesome, it’s a beautiful venue. This was so different. I still haven’t — when I get in my zone, I don’t really take in the scenery. I think it’s kind of a bad thing to do. I wish I could have done it a little more. Kind of after my match, looking around, I thought ‘this was pretty special.’ It was unique and awesome. It was cool all around.”
Not every wrestler was on board right away. Mitch Moore, who pinned his opponent for the second time in as many matches, was a little nervous when the event was first announced.
“At first when they told us we were wrestling on the baseball field, I was kind of like “I don’t want to do that. It’s going to be cold and it’s going to suck,’” Moore said. “Once it got to be Friday and I saw the weather, I got really excited because it was supposed to be really nice weather. We could not have more perfect weather than we had today. I was really happy to come out here and wrestle.”
That perfect weather was one of the key parts of success for the entire Mat on the Mound meet. Instead of the bone-chilling Blacksburg weather that has come into effect as of late, much of the afternoon was sunny and in the lower 60’s.
“With this weather, I liked [English Field] better because sometimes the air in Cassell gets dry,” Moore said. “Today it just felt good.”
So what would have happened if the weather didn’t cooperate and it dipped down into the 30’s?
“We’re tough guys. We’re wrestlers,” McFadden said. “I really don’t think we get fazed by too much. We kept checking the weather… I was like, ‘You know what, if it’s a little chilly, it’s a little chilly and we can deal with it.’ It turned out perfect. It turned out to be a big day.”
Simply put, the Mat on the Mound was an astounding success from the packed crowd to the perfect weather, and capped off with the exciting victory. It begged the question if the Hokies are ready to move to bigger and better pastures inside Lane Stadium.
“I don’t know if we’re ready for that,” Robie said with a smirk.