The Virginia Tech Hokies and four-time ACC Coach of the Year Kevin Dresser return all but one of the eight wrestlers they took to the 2016 NCAA Tournament in Madison Square Garden. Of the seven coming back, five of them were All-Americans in 2016. That does not include Joey Dance (125), an All-American in 2014 and the second seed in 2016, who returns for his senior campaign. It also does not include Zack Zavatsky (184) who had a stellar freshman campaign, entering NCAAs with a 25-7 record and the number five seed before falling in the round of 12.
2016 could have been even better for Virginia Tech, had Dance and Zavatsky performed up to their considerable potential, but it was still a historic season. The Hokies went 16-2 in duals, winning the ACC dual title with a thrilling 19-14 defeat of N.C. State in Raleigh. They finished second to N.C. State at the ACC Championships, but wrestled back strong after a tough first day at NCAAs to take home the school’s first NCAA team trophy, finishing fourth.
The 2016-17 squad could be even better. Though the weights may change, everyone down low including Dance, Dennis Gustafson (133), Solomon Chishko (141) and Sal Mastriani (149) could move up, the talent is unmistakable. If some, or all, of the smaller Hokies bump up, it will create a tough competition for the starting line-up somewhere. The second ever three-time All-American for Virginia Tech, Nick Brascetta, leaves a whole at 157, but Ryan Blees transferred in from Oklahoma State and is expected to challenge for that spot.
It seems almost certain that Solomon Chishko will move up to 149 which should force Mastriani to 157. The battle between Blees and Mastriani for the starting spot will be one to watch. Assuming Dance and Gustafson stay put, there isn’t an obvious option at 141 pounds to replace Chishko. Brendan Ryan and Brent Waterman are there, though neither looked like a top-level D1 prospect last year, as well as incoming freshman Brent Moore (ranked seventh at 138) and Jarrett Degen (ranked 12th at 145). If one of those two shows they are ready to compete early, we may see them in the line-up right away. If Dance or Gustafson moves up, that could open the door for the 11th ranked high school 126 in the country, Kyle Norstrem, to find his way into the line-up in his first year in Blacksburg.
The only question in the top half of the Hokie line-up is whether David McFadden (165), sixth a year ago, will be healthy after off-season knee surgery. If he is close to 100%, he’ll be the guy. Returning third place finisher Zach Epperly (174), Zavatsky (184), returning sixth-place finisher Jared Haught (197) and returning fourth place finisher Ty Walz (285) will anchor the line-up and woe be the team trying to come from behind against that murderer’s row.
The 2016-17 Virginia Tech wrestling schedule features duals against Edinboro (Nov 5th), Missouri (Nov 20th), North Carolina (Jan 8th), Virginia (Jan 22nd, Lehigh (Jan 27th) and N.C. State (Feb 11th) among others. They once again host the Hokie Open on November 6th, take a trip to the Las Vegas Invitational December 2nd-3rd, and head to Norfolk for the Virginia Duals January 13th-14th. It does not appear the location of the ACC tournament is known at this time, but it should be Sunday, March 5th if scheduling tradition holds. The NCAA Championships are March 16th, 17th and 18th in St. Louis.