By Mike Finn
Atlantic Coast Conference
GREENSBORO, N.C.—NC State sophomore heavyweight Nick Gwiazdowski (Delanson, N.Y.), who captured the conference’s first individual national wrestling championship since 2009, Tuesday was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Wrestler of the Year.
Virginia Tech freshman Joey Dance (Christiansburg, Va.), who finished 4th nationally at 125 pounds, was named the ACC Freshman Wrestler of the Year and Tech head coach Kevin Dresser, who led the Hokies to their second straight ACC Wrestling Championship, was honored as the ACC’s Wrestling Coach of the Year.
All three honors were awarded by a vote of the league’s seven head coaches.
Gwiazdowski, who finished the year with a 42-2 record, won the ACC heavyweight title and then plowed through the NCAA field, winning five straight matches and defeating the No. 1 seed in the Tournament, Minnesota’s Tony Nelson, to win the title. He became the first ACC wrestler to win a national championship since the Wolfpack’s Darrion Caldwell in 2009. He was also the third Wolfpack wrestler to claim the heavyweight title, following Sylvester Terkay (1993) and Tab Thacker (1984). Gwiazdowski won his final 20 matches of the year.
“I’m very honored to be named the 2014 ACC Wrestler of the Year,” said Gwiazdowski. “I take a lot of pride in competing in such a great wrestling conference, as well as being part of a program here at NC State that is on the rise. This award would not be possible without my family, friends, coaches and teammates here at NC State.”
Gwiazdowski’s performance helped NC State finish 19th nationally as a team, one of six ACC schools who finished 25th or better.
“Our conference has grown nationally into one of the elites, so this is a great honor for Nick and for our team“, said NC State coach Pat Popolizio. “This is an award that shows Nick’s dedication and hard work. This is a big statement for NC State, a major building block for us to become a top program, both in the ACC and nationally.”
Dance, who posted a 28-10 overall record, finished third in the ACC Championship, and dropped his first match in the NCAA Tournament before winning five consecutive consolation matches to garner fourth-place honors. He became the highest-finishing ACC freshman in the NCAAs in Tech history.
“My big goal for the year was to be an All-American, but also earning the ACC Freshman of the Year is another notch in my belt,” said Dance. “Overall, this award makes my freshman year that much sweeter. I hadn’t really thought about the honor, but it’s big news and something that I’m very honored to receive. We’ve had five of the last six ACC Freshmen of the Year so it’s a testament to Coach Dresser, Coach (Tony) Robie, Coach (David) Hoffman and Coach (Eric) Morrill to their recruiting as well as the coaching and training I get from them on a daily basis.”
Dance also received praise from his Dresser.
“Good for Joey,” said Dresser. “He had a good year and finished strong after a disappointing ACC Tournament. He put it behind him and went out and became the first freshman in program history to earn All-America honors. That’s also five out of six years that Virginia Tech has had the ACC’s Freshman of the Year and I think that speaks to the quality of recruiting we’ve been able to do and then getting them ready at the end of the year and keeping the bar high for freshmen who come to Virginia Tech.”
Dance followed in the footsteps of former Tech wrestlers Jarrod Garnett (2009), Brian Stephens (2010) and Nick Brascetta (2012) who each were named ACC Rookies of the Year. Tech’s Devin Carter was named co-Rookie of the Year in 2011 along with Spencer Myers of Maryland.
Dresser, who guided Tech to an eighth-place finish in the NCAA Tournament, its highest ever national finish, claimed the ACC Coach of the Year honors for the second straight year.
“Ten guys came together at the ACC Championship as underdogs and were ready to go,” said Dresser. “They went out and won by a margin that was pretty significant and impressive. This award goes to those 10 guys, along with Coach Robie, Coach Hoffman and Coach Morrill for getting Virginia Tech ready to go for the ACC Championship and then again for the NCAA Tournament.”
ACC Wrestler of the Year—Nick Gwiazdowski, N.C. State
ACC Wrestling Rookie of the Year—Joey Dance, Virginia Tech
ACC Coach of the Year—Kevin Dresser, Virginia Tech