Virginia Tech Wrestling ended the dual-meet season on a sour note with back-to-back losses to NC State and Pittsburgh on the road. Now, it heads back to the Steel City trying to bounce back at the ACC Championships on Sunday.
“We’ve talked about going out early and trying to be aggressive, but you can’t make more out of it than it is,” said Tony Robie, head coach. “You can’t make this a bigger event than it is because the guys that do that typically don’t perform well.”
Tech led early in both of their last two matches. The Hokies were up 15-9 through six matches against the Wolfpack and then 13-6 against Pitt, but then lost the duals late. Tech lost three out of four to finish the match against NC State and then were swept from 174 pounds up to heavyweight against the Panthers.
“Obviously we didn’t finish things the way we wanted to; I felt like we lost to two good teams down the stretch,” Robie said. “I thought we could have won both of those matches, but our margin for error in dual meets is very small this year and we had a couple of things not go our way.”
One of the most surprising losses in the dual against Pittsburgh was No. 1 Hunter Bolen’s first dual loss of the year at 184 pounds. He lost a 10-8 bout to No. 5 Nino Bonnacorsi that put Pitt back within a point in the dual.
Despite dropping the last match-up of his season, he was still able to retain the top seed in his weight class for the ACC Championships. 184 will be one of the more interesting weight classes with Bolen, Bonnacorsi and No. 2 Trent Hidlay (NC State) all in the same bracket. Bolen will have to get back to his winning ways to win his first ACC Championship.
“I think he needs to go out and do what he’s done the entire year. If you look at what he’s done this year and the guys he’s beaten, it’s pretty impressive,” Robie said. “Bonnacorsi is tough, and I think Hunter wasn’t quite ready for that and didn’t wrestle very smart, but it could be a blessing in disguise because it’s better for him to take that loss in a dual meet rather than the ACC’s or NCAA Championships.”
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The only other Hokie seeded in the top two in Pittsburgh is freshman Bryce Andonian at 149 pounds. Andonian has been a sensation in his first year with the Hokies, going 8-3 in duals this year and 4-1 in the ACC. His only conference loss came against top seed Austin O’Connor of UNC, who is currently ranked third in the nation.
“There are certain positions that you have to stay away from with O’Connor; he’s really good in a front headlock, and that’s what happened in the dual meet a lot,” Robie said. “We have to get to that point first, but Bryce has to approach that match a little bit smarter than he did in the dual meet. He’s come a long way since then, and he’s made strides and gains; he’s capable of putting up a lot of points.”
Tech will only have one wrestler competing who has reached the peak and won an ACC Championship. No. 10 David McFadden has won two ACC Championships in each of the last two years. Last year, he won at 174 pounds, but will be competing this year at 165 pounds, which was where he won his first conference title.
McFadden has not had his best performance this season as a senior, going 2-2 in ACC duals, including a tech fall to North Carolina’s Kennedy Monday. He enters Sunday’s tournament as the third seed and will most likely have to go through Monday to win his third straight title.
“[McFadden] needs to go out and get back to what he’s good at; I think he’s going to perform a lot better when it’s not a one-hour weigh-in,” Robie said. “I feel like we’ll see the best version of David McFadden through the last two events.”
The NCAA announced how many wrestlers from each conference will earn automatic bids to the national championships in Minneapolis, MN. Most of the Hokies’ wrestlers will earn bids if they wrestle to the level that they are seeded. However, there are a few that will have to go on a run to qualify.
Joey Prata is seeded fourth at 125 with only three automatic qualifiers, Cody Hughes is seeded fifth in 174 with only four automatic qualifiers, and Stan Smeltzer will have the toughest run as the fifth seed at 197. The 197-pound weight class will only receive one automatic qualifier, so Smeltzer would have to win the bracket to earn a bid.
“[Stan] is going to have to beat the top seed Aiello from UVA in the semifinals and on paper, that’s a big mismatch,” Robie said. “I thought the match up in Charlottesville was closer than the score indicated, so he’s got to find a way to slow him down a little to find a way to win that match.”
The Hokies have won two ACC Championships in the past three seasons, but it will be a much tougher test this year. North Carolina and NC State are set up much better on Sunday as those two schools account for four of the ten top seeds and eight of the ten seeded second. Tech will have to avenge many losses from the season in order to come up with the upset victory.
“We have our work cut out for us just in terms of the way the seeds played out,” Robie said. “Everybody will have to wrestle above their seeds, and in some cases significantly above their seeds. We’re going to have to hope that some of these other schools knock each other off and if we have ten guys finish in the top-three in their weight class, then we’ve got a shot.”