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February 12, 2009

Wrestlers capitalize on early fortune by drawing record crowd

By: Matt Kovatch

Jarrod Garnett is one of the many young Hokies who have helped the wrestling team to its first national ranking in program history.

With the Virginia Tech wrestling team having the best season in its history, why shouldn’t it shoot for having the largest home attendance figure in its history?
On Feb. 8, that’s exactly what the Hokies did. Head coach Kevin Dresser and the sports marketing staff blew out the event in a big way for defending ACC champion Maryland’s trip to town, and the match wound up drawing a Tech-record 1,763 fans to the event, surpassing the mark of 1,638 that was set in 2001 when No. 1 Minnesota came to Blacksburg.

Sure, there were enticing reasons to show up at Cassell Coliseum on that Sunday afternoon. The match followed a wildly entertaining men’s basketball game against N.C. State, the first 200 fans received a free HokieBird bobble head doll, and an $1,800 scooter was given away to one lucky fan. The week before the match, Dresser even sent out a department-wide e-mail encouraging employees and student-athletes to come out and support the team.

But the biggest reason of all? How about the fact that the young Hokie grapplers, a bunch that won just seven matches a year ago, entered the bout with Maryland ranked No. 13 in the nation with a record of 17-1?

That probably had a lot to do with it, and after Tech defeated the Terps that day, wrestling fever is riding high in the New River Valley, especially with the ACC Championships coming to Cassell Coliseum on March 7.

It’s been a surprising season thus far for the Hokies, and there very well may be more surprises in store.

“I’m a little surprised at the way that some of these true freshmen have performed,” Dresser said. “I knew they had the ability and I knew they were going to be good, but they’ve really stepped it up early in their careers. For a true freshman to compete in the top 20 of his weight class in the nation right away – that’s a real tribute to him.”

Two freshmen of whom Dresser speaks are Jarrod Garnett, the country’s 14th-best (as of Feb. 8) in the 125-pound weight class, and Pete Yates, who was ranked No. 20 at 149 pounds. Garnett and Yates are just two of the youngsters who have Tech in the national polls for the first time ever, drawing fans to see them in record numbers. One of those fans is Dresser himself.

“It’s cool because before I took over here, I was a huge Virginia Tech wrestling fan,” the third-year head coach said of what it’s like to see the Hokies’ name in the national rankings. “And I still am a huge fan; I just happen to be the coach now. But simply from the standpoint of a Hokie fan, I’ll tell ya – I’m excited.”

Tennis squads begin spring campaigns
With baseball, softball and lacrosse getting their seasons underway in February, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the start of the men’s and women’s tennis teams’ dual match seasons.

The women’s team, behind the play of senior Jessica Brouwer, upset 31st-ranked Ohio State on Feb. 8 to begin its schedule with a 4-1 mark, having also recorded victories over Elon, Longwood and Iowa.

The men, meanwhile, opened their season with a 2-1 record after defeating 44th-ranked Penn State on Feb. 7 by a score of 4-2. The Hokies had previously beaten No. 41 New Mexico before losing to No. 1 Ohio State despite junior Yoann Re’s upset of the nation’s sixth-ranked player, an achievement that earned him ACC player of the week honors on Feb. 3.