Last year, the Hokies finished a program-best fourth and were looking to improve on that in what seemed like a great opportunity to do so given their talented group of wrestlers. It was unknown how the loss of Kevin Dresser would impact the Hokies with VT’s staff being a little short-handed, but the Hokies came out and put together a strong performance in St. Louis even though they came up short in their national title hopes.
The Hokies put up a strong effort but were unable to improve upon last year’s result, finishing sixth overall in the final standings with five All-Americans in Joey Dance (125), Solomon Chishko (149), Sal Mastriani (157), Jared Haught (197), and Ty Walz (HWT). Walz and Haught advanced the deepest in the bracket getting all the way to the semifinals before dropping into the consolation bracket.
Ty Walz was arguably the biggest star for the Hokies in the NCAA Championships making a deep run to the semifinals in his final national championships before finishing fourth overall at the heavyweight class after losing in the third-place match. Walz did about as well as he was expected given how he was a number 3 seed and finishing fourth is a great finish for what was a great career for Walz.
Walz definitely set a high standard of consistency in his career in Blacksburg, and the Hokies will have a big hole to fill at the heavyweight class with their star senior heavyweight wrestler gone.
Jared Haught also had a great NCAA Championships on his way to a fourth place finish that undoubtedly makes him one of the top contenders to win the national title at 197 next year. Haught has a very bright future and was the second highest-ranked non-senior at 197 according to InterMat entering the national championships with Haught backing up his fourth seed with a fourth-place finish.
Haught will return as arguably the biggest star on this team after a great performance in St Louis that will make him a targeted man next season.
Joey Dance suffered a surprise upset in the quarterfinals to UVA’s Jack Mueller, but Dance bounced back and earned All-America status once again before finishing fifth overall after losing a consolation semfinal to the #1 seed, Iowa’s Thomas Gilman followed by having UVA’s Jack Mueller forfeit the fifth-place match due to injury.
Dance, like Walz, will go down as one of the best wrestlers in Virginia Tech history with multiple ACC Championships and All-American honors earned during his career.
Solomon Chishko showed that he is also one of the bright stars of the future for the Hokies with a sixth-place finish at 149 after entering the NCAA Championships as the sixth overall seed in what was another strong season for Chishko. Meanwhile, Zach Epperly and Zack Zavatsky both had disappointing NCAA Championships as despite the fact that both were top 5 seeds, neither earned All-American status with Zavatsky going 1-2 in the NCAA Championships.
Meanwhile, Sal Matriani entered as the 14th seed and the senior outperformed his seeding on his way to finishing eighth overall at 157 and earning All-America honors for the first time in his career as a senior. Mastriani was a pleasant surprise in 2017 with a breakthrough senior season that culminated in him being an All-American in what was a great way for Mastriani to end his wrestling career.
Virginia Tech came in sixth overall but was not that close to the top 5 despite entering the NCAA Championships ranked fifth nationally. Now, Whit Babcock will do a national coaching search looking for a full-time replacement for Kevin Dresser with interim coach Tony Robie likely to be a contender especially with VT winning the ACC Championships in dominant fashion during his status as interim head coach. However, it shouldn’t be surprising either way if Babcock goes with Robie or brings in someone from outside despite VT’s great success in the Kevin Dresser era.
While Virginia Tech may not have been able to contend for a national title in St. Louis, they did have a solid weekend with five wrestlers earning All-American status including all three senior wrestlers who made the trip to St Louis.