Roger Moore, NCAA.com
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa – Over the last five years, Virginia Tech wrestling has been known more for its ties to the University of Iowa than for success on the mat. A coaching change followed by a mass exodus of talented student-athletes – one being eventual two-time NCAA champion Brent Metcalf – led to a lawsuit that’s left some bitter feelings on both ends.
In 2005, former Iowa star Tom Brands was hired to lead the Hokie program with just three top-20 finishes in its history. However, his tenure lasted just two seasons as the Hawkeyes came calling. A handful of talented recruits also left the Virginia Tech program to follow Brands, a group that would help Iowa win three consecutive NCAA titles from 2008-10. The Hokies finished 34th at the 2010 Championships.
At the Cliff Keen/NWCA National Duals over the weekend, Virginia Tech showed that the recovery process is well underway.
The Hokies, under head coach Kevin Dresser, a 1986 NCAA champion for Iowa, entered the two-day dual tournament ranked 12th and as the seventh seed. On Day 1 they dispatched a good Central Michigan squad and then upended No. 2 seed and perennial powerhouse Oklahoma State. On Sunday the Hokies knocked off third-seeded Wisconsin to reach the final where they faced No. 1 Cornell.
Although the Big Red outlasted Tech 25-10 to claim the title, the buzz around the UNI Dome was still centered around Dresser’s group.
“This was a good weekend for us, but at the same time we didn’t get done what needed to be done here,” Dresser said after the final.
In regards to Virginia Tech, there’s not much to report as far as NCAA Championship credentials. Three times the Hokies have finished inside the top 20 – 1956, ’59 and ’00. A year ago at the 2010 NCAA Championships in Omaha, Neb., Tech scored 16.5 points with one All-American, 141-pounder Chris Diaz.
This past weekend, Tech had a winning record in duals versus just one of the 15 other programs in the bracket.
The 2010-11 version of Virginia Tech might be ready for a few new chapters in the Hokie record book.
Against the Cowboys it was Matt Epperly’s second-period pin of Mike Benefiel at 174 pounds that provided important bonus points in an 18-16 victory. The New Jersey native who was recruited by Brands trailed 3-1 in the second period before scoring a takedown and turning Benefiel to his back with a tilt that doesn’t usually result in a pin. But the official slapped the mat at the 4:12 mark.
Brian Stephens beat fifth-ranked Jamal Parks at 149 and David Marone’s victory over Cowboy backup Blake Rosholt in the dual’s final bout pushed Tech to the semifinals.
“This is great for our team,” said Epperly, a fifth-year senior. “Everybody said when Dresser got here we were never going to make a team after it got ripped apart. But this is my fifth year and we are just building … this proves it.”
“By far this is the biggest win for the Virginia Tech program,” Dresser said after the victory over the Cowboys. “All 10 guys went out and fought their tails off for us. The guys believed. All it takes is one spark and we got that from (Matt) Epperly. We had some top guys go down but other guys stepped up.”
In November, Wisconsin edged Tech 24-14 in a dual that was part of the ACC Challenge. This time around, the Hokies flipped the script with a 20-19 win. Diaz picked up his 100th career victory in the team win.
In the final Cornell, even without the services of two starters, showed why it is the legitimate No. 1. Coach Rob Koll’s group held off No. 3 Minnesota in the semifinals.
Wisconsin rebounded to beat Minnesota for third place. Oklahoma State entered the weekend unbeaten but left with a pair of losses and a sixth-place medal. The Cowboys beat Northern Iowa and Iowa State but fell to Missouri on Sunday afternoon.
When the next set of NWCA/USA Today rankings are released this week, Cornell will remain No. 1 and Penn State will be No. 2. There’s a chance that a new kid on the block – Virginia Tech – might be No. 3.
In other action, Division II saw plenty of drama as top-ranked Nebraska-Omaha needed an overtime victory by Taylor Escamilla at heavyweight to get by Newberry in the semifinals. Mike Denney’s Mavericks, winners of the last two NCAA titles, then needed Escamilla in the final bout once again to beat Augustana (S.D.) 17-15 for the title.
For only the second time in the history of the National Duals, Augsburg and Wartburg did not meet in the Division III championship match. Wisconsin-La Crosse beat the top-seeded Auggies in the semifinals thanks in part to a pin by Lloyd McKinney at 125 pounds and a technical fall by Adam Sheley at 133 pounds for a quick 11-0 lead. But in the final Wartburg rallied from a 15-7 deficit with three consecutive victories for a 16-15 win over UW-La Crosse. Augsburg bounced back with a 27-11 win over Ithaca to claim third.