ACC Wrestling Reaching New Heights

NC State, Virginia Tech Ranked Among the Top Three Teams Nationally

Atlantic Coast Conference wrestling has made several big strides over the past two years, including this last week when NC State and Virginia Tech recorded impressive performances in the NWCA’s National Duals Championship Series.

The Wolfpack of Coach Pat Popolizio became the first ACC team in history to defeat Iowa, downing the then second-ranked Hawkeyes, 21-17, at Iowa’s Carver Hawkeye Arena. The win for State was its second straight over a top five foe, as they had defeated fifth-ranked Missouri before facing the Hawkeyes. Overall, State has faced 10 nationally-ranked foes this year and defeated nine of them. Earlier this year, the Wolfpack also became the first ACC team to defeat Oklahoma State, downing the then-fourth-ranked Cowboys in Stillwater, 19-15.

"This is a testimony of all the coaches in the conference working hard to elevate both their programs and the conference as a whole,” said Popolizio.

“The ACC has proven that not only can it compete, but also can be successful against all other conferences in the country. This is a very exciting time for ACC wrestling, as the future remains very bright."

The Wolfpack have been led throughout the year by heavyweight Nick Gwiazdowski, a two-time national champion who has won 82 consecutive matches, the longest such streak in the NCAA; by 141-pounder Kevin Jack, who is ranked third nationally; by 157-pounder Thomas Gantt, who is ranked fourth nationally and by Max Rokskopf, who is ranked sixth nationally at 165. NC State has six wrestlers ranked 14th or higher this week by InterMat magazine.

Earlier in the weekend, Virginia Tech, ranked fifth nationally, dominated eighth-ranked Michigan, 24-11. In all, Coach Kevin Dresser’s Hokies feature a lineup with eight wrestlers ranked among the nation’s Top 20 by InterMat. Led by sophomore Zach Epperly, junior Joey Dance and senior heavyweight Ty Walz, Tech captured seven of the 10 matches.

Virginia Tech ended the year 16-2 in dual matches, with one of the losses being a 21-15 decision against No. 1-ranked Penn State. The Hokies have won 10 straight duals including five against ranked opponents. Tech, the regular season ACC dual match champion, has won 10 consecutive ACC duals.

“I think it is safe to say that the ACC continues to make great strides in the sport of wrestling,” said Dresser, whose Hokies will be going for their third ACC title in four years at this year’s ACC Championship on March 6 at Virginia’s John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“Each and every program in the ACC is invested and the results are showing. Personally, at Virginia Tech, we love the rise of all our conference opponents. The iron sharpens iron mentality is very real right now in the ACC!

“We are excited about with another ACC Dual Meet Team Title. The focus is now in Charlottesville for March 6.”

Tickets for the ACC Championship are now on sale, priced at $10 for adults and $5 for youth and senior citizens, and can be purchased at the following link: http://theacc.co/WRES16tix

ACC students will be admitted free of charge with a valid student ID.

The two wins boosted NC State into second in this week’s NWCA National rankings, with Virginia Tech, which defeated the Wolfpack in dual meet competition two weeks ago, right behind them in third. That’s the highest tandem ranking for ACC teams in history.

No ACC team has finished higher than a tie for fifth in the NCAA Championships, something North Carolina accomplished in 1982. NC State’s highest finish in the NCAAs was seventh in 1993, while Tech’s was an eighth-place finish at last year’s national championship.

State has posted a school-record 23-1 duals mark, with the lone loss coming at the hands of the Hokies. The 23 dual match wins are the most in ACC history, the previous high belonging to Virginia Tech, which won 20 dual matches in 2009 and 2011.

But that wasn’t then end of the good news for the Conference.

On Sunday, Duke upset 23rd-ranked Purdue on the road, 28-18, behind big wins by Conner Hartmann, Mitch Finesilver and Jake Faust. The Blue Devils of coach Glen Lanham recorded the win despite giving away a forfeit at 133 pounds. Duke, though finishing just 6-9 overall in dual meet competition, was 2-0 against ranked opponents.

In fact, the entire ACC has been impressive against nationally-ranked foes this year, posting a 14-7 record and a .667 winning percentage against non-conference teams ranked in the NWCA national poll.

Finally, the ACC had one more bit of good news over the weekend. Despite the fact that 13th-ranked North Carolina, wrestling in its inaugural season under first-year head coach Coleman Scott, lost at fifth-ranked Oklahoma State, Tar Heel junior Joey Ward upended OSU’s Dean Heil, the nation’s No. 1 wrestler in the 141-pound weight class, 3-1, with a sudden victory in overtime.

The impressive performance elevated Ward from ninth-ranked in his weight class to No. 6 in this week’s InterMat rankings. He is one of three ACC wrestlers ranked among the top eight nationally in the 141-pound class, as Ward will be competing against Jack, who is ranked third nationally, and Virginia Tech freshman Solomon Chishko, who is currently ranked eighth.

The 141-pound class in the ACC is just one of several weight classes where the competition will be fierce in next week’s 2016 ACC Wrestling Championship in Charlottesville, Va., which will showcase some of the top wrestlers in the nation on Sunday, March 6, beginning at 11 a.m. at Virginia’s John Paul Jones Arena.

Gwiazdowski, top-ranked nationally and seeking his third straight ACC and NCAA title this year, will face a difficult challenge in his own conference from Virginia Tech’s Ty Walz, who is ranked third nationally, with his only loss in 26 matches, a 4-2 decision to Gwiazdowski.

In all, 25 ACC wrestlers are ranked among the nation’s Top 20 in the weight categories by InterMat.

Two weight classes feature four nationally-ranked wrestlers each among the six competing.

At 197 pounds. Duke’s Conner Hartmann, a two-time All-American who is ranked fifth nationally, will compete against Virginia Tech’s Jared Haught (ranked sixth nationally), Virginia Zach Nye (13th nationally) and NC State’s Michael Boykin (14th).

And at 165 pounds, State’s Rohskopf, which is rated sixth by InterMat, will be facing John Michael Staudenmeyer of North Carolina (11th), David McFadden of Virginia Tech (14th) and Alex Utley of North Carolina (18th).

Additionally, the 174-pound class will feature a pair of top-five contestants in Zach Epperly of Virginia Tech (2nd) and Ethan Ramos (4th) of North Carolina.