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December 9, 2008

Young Tech grapplers off to promising start

By: Matt Kovatch

Sophomore Chris Diaz is just one of many young Hokies performing well in the wrestling season’s early going.

There isn’t a whole lot going on in the Olympic sports realm around the holiday season, but one Tech team that has been performing rather admirably has been the wrestling squad. Pundits around the country have even begun to take notice, because as of press time, the InterMat/NWCA/NWMA rankings listed true freshmen Jarrod Garnett 11th at 125 pounds and Jesse Dong 19th at 157 pounds. lists Garnett 10th and Dong 17th, along with four other Hokies at various spots within the top 33.

The Hokie grapplers jumped out to a 3-0 start before entering invitational action on Dec. 4th and 5th in both Las Vegas and Davidson, N.C. Tech opened the season with a 22-18 home win over George Mason on Nov. 9th before drubbing Anderson 42-3 and shutting out Chattanooga 37-0, both on Nov. 30th in Tennessee.

The win over Chattanooga was particularly special because of a huge upset by sophomore Chris Diaz. The 141-pounder provided the highlight of the match when he toppled the nation’s fourth-ranked wrestler in the weight class, Cody Cleveland, 8-6. Cleveland was an All-American last year for the Mocs.

With the team schedule on respite until January, the Hokies began traveling the country for various individual tournaments, and four Hokies placed in the competitive Las Vegas Open.

Both Garnett and Diaz finished fourth in their respective brackets. Garnett lost to top-seeded Rollie Peterkin from Penn in his first match of the day, 12-5, but rebounded to defeat third-seeded Marcus Orozco from Cal Davis, 6-4, to earn a trip to the 125-pound consolation finals. He then fell to second-seeded Anthony Robles from Arizona State 18-1.

Diaz reeled off three straight victories, including a 5-4 victory over Chris Drouin from Arizona State, to secure a trip to the consolation finals at 141 pounds. Diaz faced second-seeded Kellen Russell from Michigan and dropped a heartbreaker, 3-1, with Russell scoring a takedown in sudden victory for the win.

Rounding out the top finishers for Tech were sophomore D.J. Bruce at 197 pounds and freshman Pete Yates at 149 pounds. Bruce earned a major decision over Matt Powless of Indiana, winning 17-4 and capturing seventh place. Yates was pinned by seventh-seeded Matt Kyler of Army and took eighth place in his bracket.

Meanwhile, at the Davidson Open, freshman Brock LiVorio won the 133-pound title, sweeping through the bracket and winning the final match against Campbell’s Trevor Smith via a major decision, 17-4.

Willoughby, Leaser named All-ACC

Sophomore Felicia Willoughby was named to the All-ACC first team.

With a final record of 20-11, the Tech volleyball team finished with its highest win total since 2002 and it was due in part to sophomore middle blocker Felicia Willoughby and freshman setter Erin Leaser, both of whom were honored by the ACC for their efforts.

Willoughby garnered first-team all-conference honors after topping the ACC in hitting percentage this year, breaking Tech’s school record by striking at a .402 clip. The Pleasanton, Calif., native finished the season with team-highs of 326 kills and 117 blocks. Willoughby received All-ACC second-team status in 2007, as well as a spot on the conference’s all-freshman squad.

Leaser, an Allentown, Pa., native, registered 1,084 assists on the season to rank fifth all-time among Tech freshmen and earn a spot on the ACC’s all-freshman team. The Hokies have now placed a player on the ACC all-freshman team the past three years, with Willoughby in 2007, and Taylor Parrish in 2006.

Track and field opens season

The Virginia Tech pole vaulters began the 2008-09 indoor track and field season strongly on Dec. 4th at the Liberty Kickoff in Lynchburg, Va., as freshman Abby Schaffer captured the title for the Hokie women and junior Yavgeniy Olhovsky won the event for the men.

In her first collegiate competition, Schaffer showed why she was one of the top pole vault recruits in the country last year. The Easton, Pa., product cleared 12 feet, 9 ½ inches for the victory, while junior Elise Birnbaum vaulted 11-9 ¾ to take third.

The Hokies finished one-two-three in the men’s competition. Olhovsky, a 2008 All-American in the event, continued where he left off last season, clearing 17-0 ¾ for the gold medal. Sophomore Jonathan Hall placed second and he was followed by junior Jared Jodon.

Be sure to pick up January’s issue of this magazine for a preview of the track and field season with the inside scoop from director of track and field Dave Cianelli