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April 5, 2013

Tech wrestling makes history

By: Jimmy Robertson

The Hokies recorded a top-10 finish for the first time, while a program-best four earned All-America honors

Pete Yates finished fourth in the 165-pound weight class at the NCAA Wrestling Championships and closed his decorated career as an All-American for the second straight year.

More than seven years ago, the future of the Virginia Tech wrestling program looked rather cloudy. The coach had left, and five of the program’s top wrestlers went with him. No one seemed sure of the next move.

But Jim Weaver, Tech’s AD, decided to hire Kevin Dresser as the coach – and now the future looks incredibly bright.

Buoyed by four wrestlers who earned All-America honors, the Hokies finished a program-best 10th at the NCAA Wrestling Championships held March 21-23 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. Tech recorded 43.5 points, also a program best. A year ago, the Hokies finished tied for 11th.

“That was our goal – to get in the top 10,” Dresser said. “Any time you have 10 point getters, you always feel like you left a little on the table somewhere, but there are probably a couple of places where we overachieved. We had four All-Americans, and I don’t think any ACC team has had four All-Americans. That’s the pinnacle of our sport. Schools that produce All-Americans – that’s a big feather in your hat.”

Senior Pete Yates paced the Hokies at the Championships. The Conyers, Ga., native finished in fourth place at 165 pounds, just missing the best finish ever by a Tech wrestler at the Championships. In 1959, Brandon Glover finished third in the 130-pound weight class.

Yates advanced to the semifinals by winning his first three matches. He beat Buffalo’s Mark Lewandowski 5-3, Missouri’s Zach Toal 7-0 and Minnesota’s Cody Yohn 5-3 in sudden victory. But in the semis, he ran into Penn State’s David Taylor, a two-time national champion in that weight class, and Taylor pinned him at 3:24.

Yates beat Iowa State’s Michael Moreno 12-2 in the consolation round before falling 5-1 to Oklahoma State’s Tyler Caldwell in the third-place match.

Still, he wrapped up a great career as a two-time All-American and with 132 wins, the second-most all time at Tech.

“He had the toughest weight class in the tournament by far,” Dresser said. “There are a lot of kids who would have ran north or south in weight classes to avoid those matchups, but he was locked and loaded.

“He’s definitely made history here. He’s the most decorated guy to come through this program. We’ve got some young guys who are going to try and change that, but right now, in April, he’s the most decorated guy – and deservedly so. He’s earned everything he’s accomplished.”

Jarrod Garnett, Zach Neibert and Nick Brascetta also earned All-America honors for the Hokies, whose four All-Americans were also a program-best at the NCAA Championships. Garnett rallied to finish in sixth place at 125 pounds after a stunning defeat in his first match. He lost to Appalachian State’s Dominic Parisi 7-6, sending him to the consolation bracket.

But the senior from Newark, Del., came back and won five straight matches. He lost to Cornell’s Nahshon Garrett 13-9 and then fell in the fifth-place match to Trent Sprenkle of North Dakota State 7-2. He closed his career with 126 wins, third-most in school history.

Tech wrestling coach Kevin Dresser guided the Hokies
to a top-10 finish at the NCAA Championships - the
program’s best finish at the event.

“He got there the hard way,” Dresser said. “He had to win four matches just to become an All-American. You shouldn’t have to win four times just to get to the podium, but that’s what he did. He didn’t wrestle great on Sunday (the last day), but he had wrestled eight matches in three days, and that’s a tough road to go.

“But that’s the one thing Jarrod couldn’t have done before – to come back after that loss and win so many tough matches. Toughness was the difference for him. He’s always been talented, but his toughness got him on the podium this year.”

Neibert was the Hokies’ surprise of the Championships, finishing in eighth place at 141 pounds. He lost in the second round, which sent him to the consolation bracket, but then he won three straight matches, including a 6-3 upset over ninth-seed Richard Durson of Franklin & Marshall (Neibert wasn’t seeded). Neibert lost to old nemesis Evan Henderson of North Carolina 7-4 and fell to eighth seed Nick Dardanes of Minnesota 9-5 in the seventh-place match.

“Everyone from the outside looking in was probably shocked at Zach’s performance,” Dresser said. “One thing about him is that he’s a gamer. He’s always best in the biggest spotlight. He always seems to step it up a little bit. Sometimes, you shake your head because he doesn’t do everything right during the season, but when there’s a big venue and a lot on the line, he seems to be better.

“It’s kind of like in golf when you have a guy who doesn’t practice as much as everyone else. But when he has to make that putt or make that chip in a big event, he does it.”

Like Neibert, Brascetta finished in eighth place, dropping a seventh-place match at 149 pounds to Ivan Lopouchanski of Purdue. Brascetta lost his second match to Jake Suefloehn of Nebraska, but bounced back to win three straight matches and earn All-America honors.

“That weight class was so deep,” Dresser said. “When you look at some of the guys who didn’t place, you think, ‘Oh my.’ After first and second, there were about 15 guys who could have placed. You could wrestle that tournament the next weekend, and you could have a different 3rd through 8th (place).”

Tech qualified a program-best 10 for the Championships, and eight of them won at least one match. The Hokies nearly had five All-Americans, but Jesse Dong lost in the consolations 7-3 in sudden victory to UVa’s Jedd Moore at 157 pounds. Austin Gabel won two matches at 174 pounds for Tech, while Derrick Borlie won two at 197 pounds.

Tech loses quite a bit off this team, as Yates, Garnett, Dong and David Marone all depart. The first three each won more than 100 matches at Tech, while Marone won 91. The four of them combined for nine ACC titles and qualified for the NCAA’s 15 times.

Still, Dresser returns six starters off this year’s team, and both Devin Carter, an All-American last season, Chris Moon, an ACC champion last season, and Chris Penny all return as well after redshirting this past season.

“I think, by the end of the year, that next year’s team could be just as good,” Dresser said. “I really do. We’ve got some wildcards in there. We’ve got a couple of redshirt freshmen who are in the room right now and a couple of freshmen coming in who will make an immediate impact. We need to have a great summer, but I really think this team can be a top-10 team next year.

“We set a goal to be a consistent top-10 team, and if we want to achieve that, we’ve got to be in the top 10 every year. Last year, we got 11th. This year, we got 10th. That’s got to be the standard.”