When his team took the mat against No. 6 NC State on Friday, Virginia Tech head coach Tony Robie was nearing a milestone. A win would tie him with former Clemson coach Wade Schalles for most wins in his first season as head coach of an ACC program.
NC State head coach Pat Popolizio had other plans.
In their third straight matchup with both teams ranked inside the top 10, the Wolfpack defeated Virginia Tech 19-15 in Reynolds Coliseum to take the ACC Dual Championship. Robie will have to settle for 14 wins in his debut season as head coach, but for Polizio, his elusive goal has been reached.
Since arriving at NC State in 2013, Polizio has been unable to guide his team to a regular season championship. The Wolfpack went 4-1 in ACC duals each of the last two seasons, with both losses coming against the Hokies. Friday’s victory marks the first time NC State has gone undefeated in conference duals since the 2000 season, and their first ACC Dual Championship since 2004.
The match started at the 125 weight class, where freshman Kyle Norstrem was faced with a tough task, as he wrestled against No. 5 Sean Fausz. Fausz dominated the match early, leading 6-0 after the first period thanks to a takedown and 4-point near fall. An escape, takedown, and another near fall in the second period gave Fausz a 13-0 lead heading into the third. With a quick takedown, Fausz picked up the tech fall to give NC State an early 5-0 lead in the team score.
The 133 bout provided the first ranked matchup of the evening as No. 18 Dennis Gustafson faced No. 13 Tariq Wilson. Wilson got an early takedown, Gustafson tied it with a reversal. The two wrestlers went back and forth with takedowns and reversals and entered the second period tied 5-5. Towards the end of the third period, NC State challenged challenged a call, thinking that Wilson had scored a near fall. The review determined there was no near fall, and Gustafson went on to win the match 8-7.
With the team score 5-3, freshman Brent Moore got set to face No. 2 Kevin Jack. Jack dominated the entire match, not giving up a single point to Moore. At the end of the first period Jack had already racked up 2:44 of riding time. With 57 seconds left in the third period, Jack completed the 15-0 tech fall to make the team score 10-3 in favor of the Wolfpack.
The second ranked matchup of the night came in the 149 weight class as No. 16 Ryan Blees faced No. 13 Beau Donahue. Both wrestlers were trying to get something going, but the first period ended without a point scored. Donahue started the second period on bottom. After escaping and getting a takedown, Donahue took a 3-0 lead. Blees scored on an escape later in the period and the match went to the third with Donahue up 3-1. Blees escaped quickly in the third and got a subsequent takedown to take a 4-3 lead. Donahue escaped before time ran out and sent the match to overtime, where he scored a takedown to win the match 5-4.
The 157 weight class featured Solomon Chishko vs. No. 3 Hayden Hidlay. After Hidlay took a 2-0 lead, Chishko scored a takedown to send it to the second period tied 2-2. Hidlay escaped, scored a takedown, and was awarded a stalling point, which helped him to a 6-2 lead after the second period. A takedown in the third period would give Hidlay his final points in an 8-4 decision to give NC State a 16-3 lead over Virginia Tech before a brief intermission.
When No. 4 David McFadden came out to face Brian Hamann, things started to go in the Hokies favor. Neither wrestler scored until McFadden escaped in the second period to take a 1-0 lead. A couple of takedowns were enough for McFadden to hold on and win the match 6-2, making the team score 16-6 in favor of NC State.
At the 174 weight class, No. 15 Hunter Bolen faced off against fellow freshman Daniel Bullard. Bolen got an early takedown and led the match 2-1 after the first period. Bullard started the second period on bottom and promptly escaped to tie the match 2-2. It would stay that way heading into the third period. Bolen started the third period on bottom and scored a reversal with 1:34 left in the match to take a 4-2 lead. A late escape was not enough for Bullard, and Bolen won the match 4-3.
With the Wolfpack’s lead narrowed to 16-9, No. 8 Zack Zavatsky got set for his match against No. 3 Pete Renda. Zavatsky led after the first period thanks to an early takedown, but gave up a couple of escapes and the match entered the third period tied 2-2. Starting the third period on bottom, Zavatsky escaped with 1:37 left in the match to take a 3-2 lead. Not wanting to risk giving up any points, Zavatsky wrestled defensively the rest of the match and hung on to take the 3-2 decision.
At the 197 weight class, No. 2 Jared Haught faced No. 7 Michael Macchiavello for the second straight top 10 individual bout. Neither wrestler was able to score in the first period, but Macchiavello got on the board with an escape in the second. Haught would get an escape of his own in the third period to tie the match, and a stalling point gave him the 2-1 decision to make the team score 16-15 with just one match to go.
With the dual win and the ACC regular season championship on the line, No. 18 Andrew Dunn got set to face No. 19 Michael Boykin in the heavyweight bout. As is typical with heavyweight matches, neither wrestler could get anything going in the first. Dunn started the second period on bottom and scored an escape to take a 1-0 lead. Boykin did the same in the third period, and the match went to overtime tied at 1-1.
In the loudest wrestling environment that this writer has ever experienced, Dunn and Boykin stepped to the line for sudden victory overtime. The first wrestler to score a takedown would clinch the match for his team. Dunn went for a single-leg takedown, but Boykin was able to stop him and turn it into two points of his own, taking the match in a 3-1 decision and giving NC State the 19-15 win over Virginia Tech.
Head coach Tony Robie was upset with the outcome of the match, but praise the wrestlers in the heavier classes.
“I mean I’m disappointed, obviously. I felt like we were in position to win another ACC title, which is important,” Robie said. “So, disappointed that we didn’t come out on top, proud of the way the guys wrestled in the back half of our lineup.”
While Virginia Tech was unable to capture the regular season title, Robie thinks the victories from guys like Zavatsky and Bolen will help them going forward.
“It’s going to set them up from a seeding standpoint with the number one seed, which is really important,” Robie said, adding that Zavatsky’s win was a confidence-builder. “I’m really proud of him and the way he competed tonight. And Hunter Bolen as well, those guys did a really good job for us.”
The ACC Championships will be held March 3 in Chapel Hill.