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March 20, 2013

Building on family's success

By: Marc Mullen

Nick Brascetta’s two older brothers wrestled in college, but already with two ACC titles, he’s on his way to establishing himself as the family champion

In just two years, Nick Brascetta has become a two-time ACC champion, and he credits a lot of his success to two older brothers, who also wrestled in college.

The script couldn’t have been written any better for then-freshman Nick Brascetta. He wrestled unattached through the first few weeks of the 2011-12 season, and then the coaches ended his redshirt season, putting him in the starting lineup.

The first match he would be competing in as an official Virginia Tech wrestler would be at No. 10 Ohio State, virtually a stone’s throw from the home of Brascetta’s parents in Columbus, and he would face 16th-ranked Cam Tessari in the 149-pound bout.

“Yeah, that match was basically in my back yard,” Brascetta said. “After I graduated from St. Paris, which is about an hour west of Columbus, my parents moved back into Columbus, so I literally live 12 minutes from the OSU campus.

“Going there as a true freshman and in my home state was extremely exciting to me, on top of the fact that it was my first match ever in a Virginia Tech singlet. I knew there would be tons of people I knew there – my friends from high school, my coaches, family and family friends. Some of them would be rooting for me, but the majority wouldn't be because I didn't have the OSU singlet on.

“I just went into it as any other match, though. The fact that we were in Ohio didn't change the way I wrestled or anything like that. I think it just made the experience that much more fun and important. But at the same time, in the back of my mind, I think I wanted to go back to Ohio and show those fans what they missed out on by not having me on their team. It was kind of a pride thing.”

Brascetta’s road to that moment was long and winding, and he credits his two older brothers for helping him along that path. It’s a journey that has seen the current sophomore win back-to-back ACC titles, be named the 2012 ACC Wrestling Rookie of the Year and qualify for two NCAA Wrestling Championships.

Nick was born in Philadelphia, the youngest of three boys for Michael and Marita Brascetta, and lived there until he was 4. He was basically born into a wrestling family. His dad only wrestled one year in high school because his mother thought it was too tough of a sport and made him quit.

However, Michael’s passion for the sport never ceased, and he continued to follow it into his adult years. The family continues to tell the story to this day of how Nick’s two older brothers got into wrestling.

“My middle brother was like 4 years old, and my dad was watching it with both of my brothers,” Nick said. “And my middle brother looked at my dad and said – he couldn’t pronounce his “r’s” right when he was a kid – ‘Dad, I want to westle.’

“My parents tell that story all the time, and that’s literally how it started right there. So my dad was like, ‘Okay, we’ll take you in.’ And so they took my older brother and him in – I wasn’t even born yet – and so, they were wrestling. Then when I was born, they were always wrestling, so it was something that I wanted to do. You always want to do what your older brothers do.”

Nick credits his brothers for getting him into the sport and for almost every other success he has accomplished on the mat. After moving from Philadelphia, with a brief stop in Columbus, the Brascetta family settled into Aurora, Colo. – not really a hot bed for wrestling talent. Interestingly enough, though, two other current Hokies call the Centennial State home (David Marone and Austin Gabel).

For almost the next 10 years, the three boys honed their skills in the sport, which helped the two older brothers earn spots on the Oregon State roster. After Jon graduated from Grandview High School and followed Dan to Corvallis, Ore., the youngest son and his parents moved back to the Columbus area, much to the disappointment of Nick.

“The move wasn’t what I wanted, moving from the suburbs in Colorado to a farm town in Ohio, but they (his brothers) told me that I could deal with everything else and that I’ll get over it, but this will present you with an opportunity that you will be forever grateful,” he said. “And of course, it didn’t hit me then.

“So we moved to Ohio, and when I got there, I wanted to be really good at something, and I made that something wrestling. I just dedicated myself for four years, and to wrestle for Graham (High School), that’s unbelievable and that’s why I’m here. It presented me with the opportunity to wrestle for a Division I school and get a scholarship and to help pay for schooling. So when I moved to Graham, that’s when everything started clicking.”

It clicked so much that he became a two-time state champion in Ohio, which included a 45-0 mark as a sophomore and winning the 103-pound title. He posted more than 150 wins in his high school career and won a state title at 140 pounds his senior year.

His success continued through the first two weekends at Tech, placing third at the Hokie Open with a 7-1 mark and then winning the Wolfpack Open at NC State, as he defeated a two-time NCAA qualifier and an All-American the previous year in Virginia’s Derek Valenti in the finals.

“I was technically redshirting my freshman year. I wrestled both of those two tournaments unattached,” Brascetta said. “Coming in to college, I knew that, because of where I wrestled in high school, I was prepared to wrestle at the highest level right out of the gate, so it was never a question for me.

“But coming in, I talked to the coaches about starting the year redshirting, with the possibility of that being pulled off because the 149-pound weight class was kind of up for grabs. And they said, ‘We’ll see how it goes.’”

Back to November 20, 2011, and Brascetta took the mat with the No. 15 Hokies trailing the Buckeyes 18-6 with just three matches remaining. He went out and faced Tessari and was leading the nationally ranked wrestler, who would eventually become a 2012 All-American, 4-3 in the waning seconds of the match.

However, with one last effort, Tessari recorded a takedown with four seconds left, and Brascetta was injured on the sequence. He missed the next 10 weeks.

In his second match back, he upset the No. 9 wrestler in country, Nick Lester of Oklahoma, 5-3, in sudden victory. Despite an “official” 6-2 record heading into the 2012 ACC Championships in Chapel Hill, N.C., Brascetta earned the No. 3 seed. He went 3-0 and won the 149-pound title with an 8-4 decision over Matt Nereim of NC State in the final to earn a bid to the NCAA Championships.

By his own words, though, he was disappointed with his 1-2 showing at the national meet, which included an upset of ninth-seeded David Habat of Edinboro in the first round.

“I won at the ACCs and then went to nationals and went 1-2, which I was not happy with at all,” he said. “I’m glad I stuck with it last year, even after the injury, to get that experience at the national level.

“This year, I’ve been healthy and hopefully that stays the same. I’ve been wrestling all year, hard practices, hard tournaments, wrestling ranked guys, and that all prepares you for March. Everything that I do during the regular season, I know that it’s preparation for March and the NCAAs. So I am really looking forward to wrestling there again.”

At the 2013 ACC Championships, Brascetta was the No. 1 seed and easily advanced to the finals, where he met an old foe – Virginia’s Valenti. It was a 5-1 victory for the Hokie, which advanced him to this year’s NCAAs and helped the team to its first ever ACC team title.

It’s almost a certain that his trip to Des Moines, Iowa, this year will include his entire family. They have been at the biggest meets he’s wrestled – last year’s NCAAs and the 2012 Midlands, which Brascetta won after beating a two-time NCAA finalist for Iowa in Montell Marion in the semis and No. 2 Donnie Vinson of Binghamton in the finals.

“If you win that, people know that you’re really good,” he said. “So I wrestled really good, but more than anything, I’m proud of the way I wrestled there. It was great to win, but I was happy with the way I did it, and I can use that in March. Ever since then, I knew that was how I had to wrestle the rest of the year and in March to be an NCAA champion, and I’ve been using that to fuel me. It’s all about getting to that point and peaking.

“But my entire family was at the Midlands, too. My brothers drove up with my parents to Chicago and watched me there, which was awesome. I won the tournament and my brothers – my idols – were there.”

Combining unattached and attached records, Brascetta has already won 49 matches at Virginia Tech in just under two seasons and owns a 27-4 mark this year.

Dan’s best season was a 17-win season and he was victorious in 39 total matches, while Jon’s best year saw him win 18 matches and 42 in his career. However, Nick will NEVER say he is the best of the family.

“Everyone always asked me who do I think is the better wrestler of those two because they are so close, and I never answer the question,” he said. “People ask them all the time who’s better, and they are always like, ‘Our little brother is the best.’

“My response to that is that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for those two, so I give them the credit most of the time because they really do deserve it. It’s never a competition between us. I’ll joke with them about how old they are and that they couldn’t wrestle me now, but it’s nothing serious.

“It’s kind of a lifelong dream of ours to live together in the same neighborhood. We’ll never know what’s going to happen in the future, but I think someday, we’ll be living down the street from each other.”

Brotherly Love? Absolutely. They don’t even have to go back to Philly to find that.