David McFadden finished in fifth place in the NCAA Championships for the second-straight year, but this time, it was at a tougher weight class.
McFadden bumped up to 174 this season after wrestling at 165 in his freshman and sophomore years. The transition was rough at times, but he found a way to grind his way through the tournament in one of the most competitive weight classes.
"Everyone said 133 is the toughest weight. It is, but I think 174 was the most seasoned vet guys," McFadden said. "I think there were seven or eight returning All-Americans and a crop full of talented freshman."
The Hokies' junior earned his fifth-place spot by beating Nebraska's Michael Labriola. The match was close for all seven minutes, with McFadden scoring a reversal in the final seconds to take a 4-3 lead and win the bout.
Neither wrestler was able to score in the first period, and McFadden started on top in the second. He racked up over a minute of riding time, but Labriola escaped to take a 1-0 lead.
McFadden started the third period on bottom, but got a reversal to take a 2-1 lead. Labriola fought back with a reversal of his own to take a 3-2 lead and erase McFadden's riding time. McFadden describes the final sequence of action as he knew he needed either an escape or reversal to avoid a loss.
"I couldn’t escape and there was 13 seconds left so I kind of baited him to slip that leg in," McFadden said. "I knew he was going to throw that right boot in and I rolled and it’s just like a basic Granby roll. The first leg defense move that you show little kids because it’s fun. I hit that, was able to slip his leg, wrestled his feet and ended up turning him to his head and coming out for two."
As he wasn't able to get a standup to escape in the third period, McFadden had to change his game plan in order to pick up the win.
"I kind of just made, not even a mid-match adjustment, a last second adjustment," McFadden said. "But that’s what you’ve got to do at this stage and I’ve been here before. I’ve been in these tight matches, so I know what to do."
McFadden clinched All-American status in Friday's consolation rounds, becoming one of just five Virginia Tech wrestlers to be a three-time All-American. He joins Devin Carter, Nick Brascetta, Ty Walz and Jared Haught, who he says are some of his best friends, in sharing that honor.
"It's cool I guess," McFadden said. "Maybe when I'm a little older I'll appreciate it a little more but I've still got another year."
In that final year, McFadden plans to accomplish a goal that has slipped his hands in previous tournaments. He hopes to become, as he says, Virginia Tech's second national champion, following Mekhi Lewis in this year's tournament.
"I’ve still got another year, you know four-time All-American," McFadden said. "I’ll join a list of no other until Mekhi Lewis shortly after. I’m still trying to get that national title. I’m trying to be the second guy ever to get it, hoping Mekhi gets it."
McFadden's first year in the 174-pound weight class was an impressive one, but it didn't come without its share of challenges. He came into the NCAA Tournament with three regular season losses, one more than last season.
Even in matches that he won, he struggled to score at times, which he says was a bit different than his dominant performances of last year. He won plenty of matches by bonus points last season, including three by fall. At 174 this year, he didn't pin a single opponent.
"I kind of went in with that mindset like I’m just going to go out and bonus people," McFadden said. "I would kind of use all my energy trying to do that and get flustered with myself and kind of tire myself out."
He realized how that mentality was affecting his performance, so heading into the ACC and NCAA tournaments, he changed his approach a little bit.
"Transitioning to postseason, I just kind of adjusted to that and I adjusted to the weight change," McFadden said. "Instead of feeling sorry for myself that I wasn’t at 165 and I wasn’t bigger and stronger than everyone, I had to go back to my freshman year roots when I wasn’t as strong as everyone and kind of be a little more tactical, be a little more strategical and not just go out like a maniac."
He said he was approached by fans this season who would point out the fact that he was scoring fewer points, but what they didn't realize is that 174 is a completely different environment than 165.
"It was different styles, different feels, people I’ve never seen before, so I really think, I walked away with a fifth-place finish, right? Fifth-place finish," McFadden said. "Last year I was happy but a little disappointed. This year, I’m going to hang my head a little bit higher with this, just kind of how I gritted it out."
Another thing that makes him feel a little better after his finish this year is the way he fought back after losing in the second round of the championship bracket. McFadden had to win five matches in the consolation bracket to make it to fifth place.
"I hang my head high in the fact also that I lose second round and able to dig deep and do something that most people wouldn’t be able to do," McFadden said.
Now that the season is over, McFadden plans to take some time off and relax after training non-stop since last summer.
"I get to take a little time off, I haven’t really stopped since the summer," he said. "I trained all throughout the summer. I ended up peaking for this tournament, but my body needs to recover now."
The Hokies' other wrestler going for a place in this morning's session didn't get the same result. Senior Zack Zavatsky lost a 5-4 decision to Oklahoma State's Dakota Geer. The loss was Zavatsky's final match of his career, one of the most decorated in Virginia Tech history.
He finishes his career in a Hokies' singlet as a four-time NCAA qualifier, three-time ACC champion and two-time All-American. He won 107 matches in his career, becoming the 12th Virginia Tech wrestler to win 100 matches.
McFadden and Zavatsky are done competing this weekend, but Virginia Tech still has one more wrestler to go. Freshman Mekhi Lewis will take the mat in tonight's final round against Penn State's Vincenzo Joseph at 165 pounds.
Tonight's final session begins at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN.
Photo Credit: Virginia Tech Athletics