Surprising Virginia Tech wrestling team a national heavyweight

Surprising Virginia Tech wrestling team a national heavyweight

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BLACKSBURG — The Virginia Tech wrestling team is in some heady company this week.

The top-ranked team in the national coaches Top 25 poll is 23-time NCAA champion Iowa.

The second-ranked team is four-time defending NCAA champ Penn State.

The No. 3 team? Virginia Tech.

“We have a good group of kids, and I think that they’ve risen to the occasion when they’ve had to,” Tech coach Tony Robie said this week. “In some cases, probably wrestled above themselves a little.

“We have some good young kids that are going to surprise some people — I think we’ve already surprised some people.”

The Hokies (6-0), who have beaten four ranked foes, were only No. 16 in the preseason poll.

“Everybody underestimated us,” said third-year sophomore Hunter Bolen, a Christiansburg High School graduate. “I think we’ve surprised a lot of people. Earned the respect we should’ve had first of all.”

By rising one spot to No. 3 in this week’s poll, the Hokies tied for the highest ranking in their history. Tech also climbed to No. 3 four years ago.

That team four years ago wound up finishing fourth at the 2016 NCAA championships — the best showing in school history. The top four teams at the championships each get to take home a team trophy. Kevin Dresser was Tech’s head coach back then, with Robie an assistant.

Tech has shined this season even though Mekhi Lewis, the 2019 NCAA champ at 165 pounds, is taking an Olympic redshirt year. He has qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials, which will be held in April.

“I know how much talent we have that’s not even in our lineup right now,” Robie said.

Tech is clicking even though only two Hokies are ranked among the top 10 nationally in their respective weight classes by InterMat. Bolen (16-1 this season, including tournament action) is No. 2 at 184 pounds. David McFadden (14-2) is ranked No. 3 at 165 pounds.

McFadden, who recorded his 100th career win last weekend, is one of only two seniors in Tech’s 10-man lineup.

“There’s no holes in our lineup,” Robie said. “We’re sending out 10 very capable guys. So in a dual-meet setting, that allows you, if you can get five wins with some bonus points or you can get six wins — which we can do against a lot of teams — you’re going to come out on top a lot.

“I like our chances of being able to have six guys go out there and get their hand raised.”

Tech did not win the ACC regular-season or tournament crown last season, snapping a string of six straight years in which Tech won one or both of those titles. Tech wound up 11th at the NCAAs, snapping a string of six straight top-10 finishes.

Virginia Tech had to replace six of last year’s 10 starters, including Lewis.

“At the beginning of the year, … I didn’t know exactly what we had,” Robie said.

But out of the 78 Division I wrestling teams in the nation, Tech is one of only three that are still unbeaten (along with Iowa and North Carolina State).

Tech has some quality wins on its resume.

n The Hokies opened the season on Nov. 2 with a 29-10 win over then-No. 9 Missouri at Cassell Coliseum. It was the first time they ever beat the Tigers.

n Tech beat then-No. 21 Northwestern 21-18 in a Nov. 10 match that was held outdoors at English Field.

n The Hokies won at then-No. 3 Ohio State 21-15 on Nov. 17.

n Tech won 20-16 at then-No. 24 Central Michigan on Jan. 3.

The Hokies, who are coming off a 36-3 home rout of unranked West Virginia last weekend, will visit Binghamton on Saturday and No. 19 Cornell on Sunday. Tech has never beaten Cornell.

Tech has had to deal with a few injuries this year.

Korbin Myers has yet to wrestle this season because of a neck injury.

Former ACC champ Brent Moore, who missed last season because of neck fusion surgery, wrestled in the first three matches this season before experiencing more neck woes. He is expected to miss the rest of the season. Bryce Andonian, a freshman, has replaced him at 149 pounds.

The Hokies, who begin ACC play next week, will have some formidable competition for the league title. N.C. State is ranked No. 5 nationally, with Pittsburgh No. 10 and North Carolina No. 13.

The team’s success this season in dual meets doesn’t mean the Hokies are assured of excelling at the NCAAs, though.

At the NCAA meet, wrestlers earn points for their team as they advance through the bracket of their weight class. The most points go to the wrestlers who finish at least in the top eight.

When Tech took fourth at the 2016 NCAAs, a school-record six Hokies earned All-America honors with top-eight finishes.

But that was a proven, accomplished squad. Four Hokies on that team had previously earned All-America honors.

By comparison, McFadden is the only Hokie in this year’s lineup that has ever earned All-America honors.

“We’re going to have to have some guys step up and overachieve at the nationals to be in that conversation [of being among the top four teams],” Robie said.

This year’s NCAA championships will be held at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis in March.

“Nobody cares about the [poll] rankings,” Bolen said. “It’s how you finish at the NCAA tournament.”

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