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February 2, 2013

Hokies Wrestling To The Top

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It's not a sport that is on the radar for most Virginia Tech supporters, but it should be. Coach Kevin Dresser's Hokies wrestling program wrapped up its 2012-2013 home schedule with a 22-19 victory over 16th ranked Oklahoma Sunday in Cassell Coliseum.

The No. 9 Hokies are 13-2 on the year with three matches to go before post-season play. After observing Sunday's match along with nearly 2,500 others inside Cassell, my first wrestling match ever, three things became apparent.

1) This team is focused on March

This is Dresser's seventh season as the head man in Blacksburg and after finishing third three times and second once at the ACC Tournament over the past four years he has this team focused on one thing this year - winning.

After a match in which the Hokies clinched the meet with one match to go, Dresser's mind remained on the final match of the day. The heavyweight battled between Tech's David Marone and Oklahoma's Keldrick Hall ended poorly for the Hokies as Marone was pinned. Despite a big victory over another nationally ranked opponent, it was clear Dresser's mind was on something besides the present. He wanted more consistency and focus from his team as he eyes the grueling and demanding post-season tournaments.

"It wasn't a great day but it was a good day until heavyweight," Dresser said. "That's the last thing in my brain right so I can't say I'm real happy about the way that went down."

"I think it's frustrating a little bit to me in that I just don't feel we've all clicked yet," Dresser said. "I think this team's better, maybe that's a good thing."

Sophomore Nick Brascetta, who rallied for a 6-4 win in his match at the 149-pound weight class, continued the mantra.

"In my mind, its all preparation for March," Brascetta said. "No matter what happens during the season, it's all practice."

This is clearly an attitude instilled by Dresser that the regular season rankings and wins over nationally ranked teams mean nothing anymore for this program. It's about winning championships now for this program, despite the regular season success. The Hokies are 7-1 against ranked opponents this year and have four guys ranked in the top ten in their respective weight classes.

The ACC Tournament is March 9 at the University of Maryland and until then the Hokies have road matches at Campbell and Old Dominion sandwiched around the National Wrestling Coaches Associations Duals at Oregon State.

"We have high expectations for this team, " Brascetta said. "Especially I think more this year than ever…March is the biggest time of the year for us."

2) This Senior Class is Loaded

This Virginia Tech team is led largely by a talented group of four seniors. Pete Yates is ranked fifth in the 165-pound weight class and was named ACC Wrestler of the Week after his win Sunday. He's 24-1 on the season.

Jesse Dong is ranked seventh in the 157-pound weight class and fought hard to a 2-0 win over his opponent Saturday.

Jarrod Garnett leads off for the Hokies in the 125-pound weight class and is ranked eighth nationally. He won his final match in Cassell Coliseum 6-5 in what was a very exciting start to the day. He finished his career 115-26 at Virginia Tech.

Finally, David Marone is the closer in the heavyweight 285-pound class for the Hokies.

"I wish I could have had a little bit of a better match for my last match in Cassell," said Garnett. "But at the end of the day a win is a win…Senior day was awesome; Just going through that process, it was really exciting.

"Those four guys are special, there's no question," said Dresser. "Those guys won like 460 matches. I know they want to finish it off strong, but they have to be real proud of what they've done here."

3) The Sport has Potential at Virginia Tech

I briefly mentioned already that Sunday was my first wrestling match. I had no idea what to expect. I walked out of the tunnel toward press row right as Garnett's match was ending and the roar I heard from the crowd, quite frankly, was stunning. The sides of Cassell that aren't behind the basketball hoops were nearly full to the top. Sure, there were empty seats scattered about as people spread out, but the 2,183 fans in attendance definitely made an impact.

"I thought we had a great crowd today, we got a lot of people out," said Garnett. "It was great seeing all the fans, the alumni, and our past All-Americans supporting us. Today, we really had a home crowd advantage."

Throughout each individual match, words of encouragement rained down on the Hokies from the crowd. Appreciative applause followed each as well, win or lose. This sport has all the potential to become even more popular at Virginia Tech. It hits three of the key categories to become a solid spectator sport.

For starters, the Hokies are good. They've got a lot of talent. That is attractive at the core level. Secondly, it's fast paced and there are momentum swings. The entire match took just under an hour and a half. That's ideal. Finally, there is a referee that can be heckled and second-guessed.

The chants of "twoooooooo" were echoed loud and clear whenever the Hokies thought they deserved two points, adding a bit of ownership for the crowd in attendance. If you ever find yourself looking for something to do on a weekend afternoon in Blacksburg, check the wrestling schedule. You will find yourself pleasantly entertained.

The Stretch Run

Virginia Tech should win its matches at Campbell and Old Dominion. However, the national duals are going to be a huge test. This has the potential to be a two-weekend event for the Hokies and is a big test.

It begins with a two-day event in Corvallis featuring the Hokies, No. 9 Oregon State Beavers, No. 17 Michigan, and No. 22 Oklahoma. If Virginia Tech wins, it will move to Minneapolis for the championships. These are different from the NCAAs Championships, which take place beginning March 21. The two goals for the Hokies seem to be to win their first ever ACC Championship and do well at the NCAAs, which I believe would constitute their first top ten finish. Regardless, this team and program is worth keeping an eye on.


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