Virginia Tech men's basketball wasn't the only team in the Rust Belt for their biggest event of the year this week as Virginia Tech wrestling kicked off their NCAA Championships in Cleveland today.
The Hokies started the day with nine wrestlers and after two rounds, VT had three going to the quarterfinals with five still alive in the wrestlebacks portion of the bracket.
Overall, the Hokies had 5 wrestlers advance to the second round at their weight classes in #2 David McFadden (165), #3 Jared Haught (197), #6 Zack Zavatsky (184), #9 Dennis Gustafson (133), and #12 Ryan Blees (149). Meanwhile, the Hokies' four unseeded wrestlers all lost their opening matches to seeded opponents.
Jared Haught's performance stood out in the opening session as Haught picked up a major decision over Northern Colorado's Jacob Seely. The major decision gave the Hokies some additional bonus points in the team race that have helped push them into the top 10.
During the night session, the Hokies went 3-2 in the second round with Haught, McFadden, and Zavatsky all picking up victories. McFadden's win stood out as the undefeated redshirt sophomore picked up a major decision victory over #15 Anthony Valencia from Arizona State, giving Virginia Tech some more bonus points in the team competition.
After the second round was complete, the four VT wrestlers who lost in the first round, all freshmen, returned to the mat. Of those 4, redshirt freshmen Kyle Norstrem, Brent Moore, and Andrew Dunn all picked up wins to advance to the next round of wrestlebacks.
Meanwhile, true freshman Hunter Bolen's season ended after suffering a loss to Army's Ben Harvey. Bolen has a bright future ahead of him that should include some All-American honors after a season where he showed plenty of promise.
Overall, Virginia Tech did just about what you expected based on their seeding with their three guys seeded in the top 8 all getting to the quarterfinals and their 2 wrestlers seeded from 9-16 winning in the first round and losing in the second round. The Hokies' performance has them tied for ninth after day 1 with 14.5 points, 0.5 points behind Oklahoma State and Cornell.
After having a tough start to the day, Virginia Tech's redshirt freshman wrestlers stepped up and picked up some important victories during yesterday's night session. However, the Hokies will be hoping for some upsets in the opening session with all three facing seeded wrestlers. Meanwhile, Ryan Blees and Dennis Gustafson have wrestled fairly well in Cleveland so far and are guys to keep an eye on to make a run in the wrestlebacks portion of the even to earn All-American honors.
However, the focus will be on the Hokies' star trio of wrestlers in David McFadden, Jared Haught, and Zack Zavatsky.
The biggest matchup comes at 197 as Haught faces Missouri's Willie Miklus. Haught dominated their match at the Moss Arts Center in the fall, but lost via a pin while trying to pick up a major decision victory that would have given VT a chance at beating Missouri This time, Haught won't have to worry about going for a team victory and enters as the favorite looking for redemption.
Zavatsky didn't get to face #3 Ryan Preisch when Lehigh travelled to Blacksburg earlier this season, but Zavatsky enters this match wrestling at a very high level. However, they did face off at the Journeyman Collegiate Classic before the season with Preisch beating Zavatsky via a sudden victory in overtime.
If Zavatsky can take down Preisch, it will open the door for the Hokies to have a shot at pushing for a top 5 finish at the NCAA Championships, something that would be an insanely impressive accomplishment for a VT program in a rebuilding year.
David McFadden will look to keep his undefeated season alive against 10 seed Evan Wick of Wisconsin. McFadden and Wick faced off at the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas earlier this season with McFadden beating Wick via a tech fall in the championships at 165.
The Hokies are off to a solid start at the NCAA Championship with three wrestlers still having a chance at winning VT's first individual title. On top of that, all three wrestlers are a quarterfinal victory away from clinching All-American honors. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech's five other remaining wrestlers still have a chance to wrestler their way to All-American honors including the trio of redshirt freshmen.
Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
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