Coach Tony Robie, who has led his Virginia Tech Hokies to multiple ACC championships while reviving the wrestling program to top-tier status in the NCAA, did not receive the results that his squad had worked for all year during the ACC Tournament on Sunday.
While the team was missing reigning national champion Mekhi Lewis due to the Olympic redshirt he exercised, there was always an expectation to return the ACC title to Blacksburg. As of recently, N.C. State has been incredibly dominant in maintaining its conference success as evident by the second straight ACC team title that it won on Sunday. The conference also saw the growth of UNC, Pitt and UVA as Virginia Tech finished second to last only in front of Duke in tournament play. Even though the Hokies boasted a No. 3 national ranking earlier in the season, they began to struggle at the wrong time in duals against conference foes UNC, N.C. State and Pitt.
Entering the championship round, the Hokies were confident in the wrestlers that had made it this far such as Bryce Andonian (149 lbs.), two-time ACC champion David McFadden (165 lbs.) and Hunter Bolen (184 lbs.) to win one final match for their team to propel them into competition for the team championship.
Andonian would face a tall order though, battling one-seed Austin O’Connor from North Carolina. Andonian came out swinging as he nearly pinned O’Connor on an unexpected toss that caught the senior by surprise. After further review by the referees, the act was spontaneous and Bryce was awarded zero points for his efforts. Back-and-forth action characterized the duel as Andonian and O’Connor exchanged takedowns. Despite Andonian’s persistence, O’Connor’s endurance and experience led to his victory in an 11-7 decision.
The seasoned veteran McFadden entered the tournament as a three-seed despite the opposing team’s awareness of the talent level that he possessed. McFadden had been dealt with impressively by prior opponents such as one-seed Kennedy Monday of UNC.
Lucky for McFadden though, Monday had been defeated early on in the tournament so he set his eyes on four-seed Jake Wentzel of Pitt. A sort of technician in his efforts, McFadden fought his way to the championship through detailed wrestling that lacked the entertainment of aggression and rough play. He shot very rarely and refused to let his opponent grab an ankle pick.
Although he was the favorite, McFadden was simply outwrestled by the more aggressive Wentzel, who would not let up and secured over two minutes of riding time in the process. McFadden would not obtain his third ACC title and lose the championship in a 3-1 decision.
Bolen represented the most consistent grappler for Virginia Tech, holding his No. 1 national rank throughout the season while defeating No. 3 Trent Hidlay twice, once in duals and the other in the ACC Championship, to secure his first ACC Championship. The match was hard-fought, with Hidlay giving up a critical stall point to Bolen early on. Bolen had the advantage in riding time as it was obvious that the championship would depend upon one or two points.
With the additional riding time point in his back pocket and the one point from an escape plus one from Hidlay’s stall, Bolen outwrestled his opponent and will now look to the NCAA Tournament in Indianapolis, Indiana, to continue his success.