Zack Zavatsky is the 14th Virginia Tech wrestler to qualify for four NCAA tournaments. He’s the sixth to win three or more ACC championships and the 12th to win 100 career matches.
Now, the Hokies’ 184-pounder hopes to be the first to accomplish something: a national championship.
Zavatsky qualified for his fourth NCAA tournament at this year’s ACC Championship. His weight class was stacked, with three wrestlers ranked in the top 10 and another one in the top 15. The top five finishers from the ACC earned automatic bids to nationals, and Zavatsky finished first to win his third ACC Championship.
Along with eight of his teammates, he’ll travel to Pittsburgh on March 21 to begin competition at his final collegiate tournament. For the Latrobe, Pa. native, it will be a homecoming party.
“It’s always nice going back home,” Zavatsky said. “I think I was there a couple of times during the summer and just thinking how close nationals are from there and it’s just a home feel. It’s going to be awesome.”
There was one hard part about having the NCAA Tournament so close to his hometown, though.
“It was definitely tough to give out tickets to all my family that wanted to come and family and friends,” Zavatsky said.
As a fifth-year senior, Zavatsky has been with the Hokies longer than any other wrestler on the team. He’s seen success every year he’s been with the team, winning at least 22 matches each season. He’s been one of the top wrestlers in the ACC, winning championships in every year except his junior season. He was able to rebound this year to claim his third title.
Though he’s put his name in the history books as one of the greatest Hokie wrestlers of all time, it hasn’t always been easy.
“I guess just staying the course,” Zavatsky said when asked what his legacy would be at Virginia Tech. “Getting my hand raised when things aren’t going well for me. Always bouncing back and trying to take the next day. Trying to forget about past stuff that happened, but just trying my best every time.”
He’s seen adversity on the mat, such as when he lost the ACC finals to two-seed Pete Renda last season. Or when he lost a major decision to Cornell’s Max Dean earlier this season. But every time, he comes back better, ready to make it right.
“There’s been ups and there’s been downs throughout the course of his career and that’s the way wrestling goes,” head coach Tony Robie said. “Very rarely do you not experience some valleys through the course of your journey. As much as anything, Zack’s proven he can persevere, he can continue to work and stay positive and do some great things for us.”
Zavatsky’s college career will come to an end this weekend in Pittsburgh, giving the 2018 All-American one last shot to forge his legacy at Virginia Tech.
“I think it’s yet to be written,” Robie said. “I think he’s excited about the end of his career and having a chance to wrestle in Pittsburgh, which is basically his hometown, for the NCAA Championships. That’s still to be determined”
Coming off a 24-3 season and his third ACC Championship, Zavatsky earned a three-seed at the NCAA Championships. He’s got a tough road to the final, as he could potentially face Drew Foster in the quarterfinals and Shakur Rasheed in the semis. Foster is one of only two wrestlers to beat Zavatsky this season, winning twice against him at the Cliff Keen Invitational last fall.
If he makes it to the finals, he could face another tough test as one-seed Myles Martin is a perfect 20-0 on the season.
Despite his challenging road to a championship, Zavatsky isn’t worried one bit.
“I beat the top guy two years ago in Vegas,” Zavatsky said, referring to his win over Martin in the 2016 Cliff Keen Invitational. “I’m just trying to have fun, enjoy it and just let it go and feel good about my performance.”
Like most wrestlers, winning a national championship has long been a dream of Zavatsky’s. Now, he has a very real shot at making that dream come true.
“That’s just been a goal of mine since I was really young and I can taste it,” he said. “It’s close.”
There’s no doubt that Zavatsky has left a mark on the Hokies’ program, but he hopes that mark is more than just winning matches. As a senior, he tries to set an example for the younger guys on the team, the way previous wrestlers did for him.
“I just stayed my course and just always looked up to the older, veteran guys like Devin Carter, Ty Walz, all those guys that came before me and kind of laid the path for everybody else and that’s just what I’m trying to do now for the younger guys,” Zavatsky said.
Regardless of how his career ends on the mat at the NCAAs, one thing is for sure: Robie is extremely proud of the way Zavatsky has handled himself during his time at Virginia Tech.
“I can tell you as far as I’m concerned, Zack Zavatsky has done a lot of great things for our program with his leadership and the kind of person he is as much as anything,” Robie said.
Zavatsky will take the mat for his final weekend of college competition on Thursday. The legacy that he leaves after that is up to him.