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March 20, 2013

Tech claims first ACC wrestling title

By: Jimmy Robertson

The Hokies’ David Marone comes through with a win in the final match to give Tech its first team wrestling crown since 1998

David Marone’s 8-0 victory in the final match of the ACC Championships lifted the Tech wrestling squad to its first ACC title

As the 2013 ACC Wrestling Championships wound down, it became perfectly clear to those knowledgeable in all things ACC wrestling that the battle for the title was going to come down to Virginia Tech and Virginia.

Tech’s chances ultimately hinged on the performance of an “old,” married man who had overcome three serious injuries during his career.

David Marone, though, came up exceptionally large, dominating Virginia heavyweight Derek Papagianopoulos 8-0 in the final match of the championships to give the Hokies their first wrestling team title since joining the league for the 2004-05 season and the program’s first since 1998 when it won the Colonial Athletic Association.

Tech finished with 95.5 team points, edging out the Cavaliers, who finished with 90.5. Maryland came in third with 48.5.

The Hokies appeared to be in trouble heading into the finals, as they trailed by 10 points and headed into the final round with six wrestlers compared to UVa’s eight. With no margin for error, Tech won five weight classes, including four in which it went head to head with Virginia wrestlers, and after getting a little help from Maryland, the Hokies clinched it on Marone’s dominating performance.

“Toughness prevailed tonight,” Tech coach Kevin Dresser said after the final match. “Coming back when you have zero room for error is a credit to these 10 guys and my assistants. Great staff. Great team. ACC champions!”

Marone took all of the drama out of it early, taking down Papagianopoulos in the first period and then two more times to roll to the 8-0 major decision. His victory sent the Tech bench streaming onto the mat in celebration.

It marked a fitting end for Marone, who coaxed a sixth year from the NCAA to be eligible to wrestle this season. Last year, his season came to an end after he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee early in the season. That was his third major surgery since arriving in Blacksburg, coming on the heels of two shoulder operations.

“A lot of people were coming up to me and saying you couldn’t have written a better script, which is true,” Marone said. “I’ve had three major surgeries, and after tearing my ACL, I was pretty much done. Coach Dresser told me there was a chance I could come back and have a sixth year, but I wasn’t having any of it. I was engaged and moving on.

“But he talked me into going to the nationals, and me and my fiancé (Emily Puzey, the two got married last August) went. The next week, I went into Coach’s office and told him my career wasn’t over yet.”

Tech’s Jarrod Garnett got things started on the right note in the final round for the Hokies. The 125-pounder pinned North Carolina’s Nathan Kraisser at 5:58 – and Kraisser came into the Championships as the top seed at 125.

Moments later, Nick Brascetta pulled out a key match for the Hokies. He was the top seed at 149 pounds, and he beat UVa’s Derek Valenti 5-1 in a match that the Cavaliers had hoped to get.

That proved pivotal, as the Hokies held the top seed in the other three matches against the Cavaliers. At 157 pounds, Jesse Dong defeated UVa’s Jedd Moore 2-1 to win that class, and then at 165 pounds, Tech’s Pete Yates downed Virginia’s Nate Sulzer 4-2 to take the crown in that class.

Virginia still had four finalists left, but the first three each lost to a Maryland competitor to keep Tech’s lead at one point with the final match left. Those matches set up Marone’s thrilling – and clinching – win.

“I had a lot of confidence because I had wrestled him (Papagianopoulos) before and beat him,” Marone said. “So I knew if I went out there and wrestled my best, I could beat him. My plan was to feel him out the first minute or so. But I felt good and my legs felt explosive, so I took my shot, and once I got to his legs, I knew I could finish it.

“Once it was finished, there was a sense of relief and excitement. I looked at my wife and my family, and the coaches and my teammates crowded me. It’s definitely the highlight of my career.”

Garnett was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler in the event after his two convincing wins at 125 pounds. In addition to beating Kraisser, he won a 10-2 major decision over Maryland’s Shane Gentry in the semifinals.

Both Garnett and Dong won their third ACC titles, while Yates and Brascetta won their second. Marone won his first.

Nine of Tech’s 10 starters qualified for the NCAA Championships. In addition to the five ACC individual champions, 133-pounder Erik Spjut, 141-pounder Zach Neibert, 174-pounder Austin Gabel and 184-pounder Nick Vetterlein all qualified. Neibert was second after losing 5-3 in the finals to North Carolina’s Evan Henderson. Spjut finished third at 133 after beating N.C. State’s Sam Speno 4-0 in the third-place match, while Gabel also finished third after beating Duke’s Trey Adamson 4-2 in sudden victory.