Hunter Bolen has emerged as one of the best wrestlers in the country during the early part of his redshirt sophomore season. Bolen was just moved to third in the InterMat rankings at 184 pounds after a third-place finish at the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas.
“He’s scoring more points this year and I think he has more offense on his feet,” said head coach Tony Robie. “His top game has gotten a lot better, and he’s wrestling with a lot of confidence right now.”
Bolen is a local to Southwest Virginia, growing up just down the road from Virginia Tech in Floyd, VA. Attending Christiansburg High School, the road was always paved for him to end up wrestling for the Hokies.
“When a lot of Christiansburg guys started going to Tech like Matt Epperly and his brother Zach, that was always something that I wanted,” Bolen said. “It was nice for me, and it’s really convenient to be so close to home.”
Having Bolen local to the area allowed Robie and other coaches to see him more closely and create a relationship with him. Now, that relationship has paid off as he has become one of key wrestlers for the Hokies this season.
“We were fortunate that Hunter grew up and lived in this area, so we got to see a lot more of him than we would’ve if he lived in a different area,” Robie said. “The one thing that was easy to spot before he had success on the national level was that he was a very competitive guy and he had a lot of grit to him.”
When Bolen arrived on campus, there wasn’t a guarantee that he would start. However, when he earned the spot, he took advantage of it. During his freshman campaign Bolen went 21-12 with a 4-0 record in the ACC. This performance was good enough to earn him ACC Freshman of the Year honors.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to start my freshman year, but coach Robie asked me if I was the guy, and soon after that I was starting,” Bolen said. “As the year went on, I had to change some things in order to get better.”
However, the next year (2018-19), Bolen did not wrestle. With David McFadden and Zack Zavatsky at 174 pounds and 184 pounds, there wasn’t a spot for Bolen to fit into the lineup. Therefore, he took his redshirt year and sat out to hone his skills for the future.
“It made sense [to redshirt Bolen] from a lineup standpoint,” Robie said. “It made a lot of sense for him to sit and grow into a 184-pounder because we felt that he would have more success at that weight. The bigger he gets, the better.”
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Although this was a tough decision, Bolen was able to take the year off to focus on improving on the mat and in the classroom. However, it wasn’t always easy for him to sit on the sidelines and watch the rest of his teammates wrestle in big moments.
“In a way, it was nice to sit back and take a year off to focus on school and specific things in wrestling without the competing aspect,” Bolen said. “Near the end of the year, I did get pretty frustrated sitting out, and it got hard to watch because I wanted to get out there really bad.”
Bolen took advantage of his year off and has come back even stronger this year at the 184-pound spot. This season, he is 13-1, with his only loss coming in the quarterfinals of the Cliff Keen Invitational last weekend at the hands of No. 4 Taylor Lujan from Northern Iowa. However, he avenged this loss with a win in the third-place match, defeating Lujan 9-7.
“Going into that event, we knew that he was better than the tenth-ranked guy in the country,” Robie said. “We weren’t surprised, and [we] think that he was capable of being in the finals and having an opportunity to win that event.”
The redshirt year has allowed Bolen to make strides, and he is now the highest ranked Hokie in any weight class, surpassing David McFadden, who is now ranked sixth at 165-pounds. Last year, Mekhi Lewis became the first Virginia Tech wrestler to win a National Championship, but the way Bolen has performed, he may not be far behind.
“I want to be a National Champion,” Bolen said. “That’s my goal, and that’s what I plan to leave here with.”
Lewis is pursuing his dream to compete for the United States in the Olympics this year, but Bolen could be joining him in four years. The future is bright with Virginia Tech Wrestling and that starts with The Christiansburg Cowboy, Hunter Bolen.
“The sky is the limit for Hunter; he could win National Titles,” Robie said. “It’s a long season, and there’s a lot of work to do, but he has to remain consistent and positive and continue to improve. Staying even all year despite the ups and the downs is going to be critical to his success going forward.”