Senior Joey Dance (Virginia Tech) has had an incredible career, becoming just the 10th Hokie to crack the 100 win barrier. His .857 career winning percentage entering Sunday’s dual against Nebraska would be tied for third best in program history. However, despite all of his success, what many wrestling fans think of when Dance’s name is mentioned are his travails at the NCAA tournament. After finishing fourth as a freshman from the 16-seed, the man from Christiansburg, Virginia, has missed the podium two years in a row despite earning the third seed in 2015 and the number two seed a year ago. Instead of looking to cap his career as a four-time All-American, Dance is trying to finish in the top eight for just the second time. Of course, he has higher aspirations than simply finishing as an All-American. Joey was kind enough to answer our questions earlier this month about getting his 100th win, being part of Virginia Tech’s rise to power, his struggles at nationals, and what he expects going forward.
Editor’s Note: These questions were answered before the NWCA National Duals pairings were released and before yesterday’s reports that Virginia Tech head coach Kevin Dresser will be the next head man at Iowa State.
TOM – You got your 100th career win at the Virginia Duals. What does that mean to you and how nice was it to get it done in your home state?
JD – To be honest I didn’t even realize when I was about to get my 100th win. The match before everyone came up to me and they were just like, “one more win.” I was confused but then I went on twitter after and saw that I was one win away from my 100th, so once I knew that I got a little nervous going into that match but after the first period all of those nerves were gone.
TOM – You’ve been a big part of the Virginia Tech program getting to new heights. The team finished in the top-10 at the NCAA tournament for the first time in 2013, the year before you arrived. Now you’ve done it four years in a row, including the program’s first team trophy last season. Was that potential part of the reason you chose Virginia Tech and what has it been like being in a program on the rise?
JD – Well, Virginia Tech wasn’t always my first choice but when I saw the kids they were bringing in it definitely caught my attention. Choosing Virginia Tech was probably the best decision I could have made, not only do I get to stay in Virginia but I also get to be a part of a now top five program. When I first got here my freshman year I had a lot to learn and you could tell by my record going into the national tournament, but everything just started to come together at the NCAA’s in March and that’s what I felt like happened with the rest of the team. Once we placed in the top ten that year we just wanted to make that a regular thing for us, but we just kept building and now we are in the top five. Don’t be surprised if we make another jump here soon and end up as the national champs, we have the team that could get it done this year and I truly believe it.
TOM – Obviously, you’ve had your own personal struggles at the NCAA tournament. You were the first ever #16 seed to become an All-American back in 2014 when you were a freshman, but your past two trips haven’t worked out despite earning high seeds. What is your approach to that history, do you put it in the past because it is over and done with or do you use it to drive you forward?
I would be lying if I told you that I don’t think about my last two years at nationals, but that is something that I just have to learn from and build from. That why I’ve recently put it in my head that I have to separate myself from everyone I go against. So even if I wrestle a highly ranked guy if my goal going in the match is to get a tech or a pin and I miss that mark I’ll still get the major. If I keep that same mentality to just score as many points as I can the rest of the year I won’t have to be worried about having those close matches in march where it all really counts.
TOM – Two of your potential rivals for a national title, Thomas Gilman (Iowa) and Nick Suriano (Penn State) met on January 20th with Gilman earning a hard fought victory. Have you watched that match and, if you have, what did you take away from it?
I mean they are both quality opponents, you could tell in the match they were both a little too standoffish, but that is expected in a big match like that. To me is seemed like Suriano wrestled a very defensive match and Gilman was happy with getting one takedown and trying to hold him off the rest of the match. My goal if I wrestle either one of them is to just to try and overwhelm them with offense and get my pace going. A few years ago when I wrestle Gilman I got up to a 5-1 lead then got comfortable and let him back in the match, so I need to stay on the attack.
TOM – You don’t have either of those guys on the schedule this season but, if the rankings hold, you could see Gilman in the National Duals. Is that something you look forward to? Would you prefer to see Gilman again before the NCAA tournament?
Yes, of course, I want to see him again. Not even just to wrestle Gilman, I know all of Hokie nation would love to see an Iowa and Virginia Tech matchup.
TOM – You’re in the second half of your senior now. Have you had a chance to stop and appreciate where you are and how far both you and the team have come or is it all business through March?
Yes, after my match against UVA they brought me out on the middle of the mat and made an announcement about my 100th win. Just being out there on the mat and hearing the crowd go crazy about it really just made me appreciate my time at tech and all the good times I’ve shared with my team and family. It is going to be hard to move on from such a great environment, I will miss this school and all the friendships I’ve made since I’ve been here.
TOM – Your high school teammate, Zach Epperly, came to Virginia Tech the same year you did but took a redshirt year so he is working on his junior campaign. What do you expect from him the rest of this season and next year?
I expect me and him to at the top of the podium in March and I know he expects the same. I feel sorry for the rest of the guys that are going to have to deal with him again next year, he has the potential to be a two-time national champ.
TOM – What are your plans for next year? Will we see you on the freestyle circuit? Could we see you coaching down the road?
After this year I will be looking for some college coaching positions and rest my body up. Going through college wrestling can be hard on your body so I think it will be good to relax a little after this year. But I never lose that itch to compete, so I will definitely pursue my dreams to become an Olympic champ, so whatever team I end up coaching for next year I really want to be in a good room where I can train and continue to get better.
TOM – Who is the one guy on your team that people don’t know about right now, but will do big things?
Dennis Gustafson, I’m sure a lot of guys have noticed him but I don’t think anyone really knows how good he actually is. Some days in the room he gets the better of me and we push each other every day no matter what we are doing running, lifting, and wrestling. Don’t be surprised if he is high up on the podium this year.
TOM – Do you ever jump in on Ty Walz when he is really tired at the end of practice?
Not really during practice because I’m also normally really tired. But I will roll around with him before a match sometimes just to get my body warm, let’s just say I’m glad he is on our side. In my opinion, he is one of the most dominant wrestlers in the country right now.