This weekend, the No. 11 Virginia Tech wrestling team will travel to Pennsylvania to go up against the No. 18 Pittsburgh Panthers on Friday and the No. 20 Edinboro Fighting Scots on Sunday.
The Panthers have five wrestlers ranked in the top 25 nationally, including the No. 2 wrestler in the nation at 197 pounds, Matt Wilps. They also have wrestlers ranked at 133, 165, 184, and 285.
Pittsburgh’s best wrestlers are in their top four weight classes, while all of Tech’s wrestlers in those weight classes are currently unranked. Head coach Kevin Dresser sees this as a chance for his wrestlers to prove themselves.
“This is how you get to be nationally ranked, you have to go beat good guys,” Dresser said. “It’s a great opportunity for them so I look at it like our guys have an opportunity here that some guys don’t get.”
At 165 pounds for the Panthers is No. 14 Tyler Wilps, the younger brother of Matt Wilps, who is currently undefeated for the season. If No. 4 Pete Yates for the Hokies continues to wrestle well, he believes that he will be the one still undefeated after the match.
“I just need to wrestle like I have been all year, going hard all seven minutes of the match,” Yates said. “I feel like I am the better wrestler and will come out on top.”
The Hokies lower weight class wrestlers have been on a roll recently. In the last three dual meets for Tech, the weight classes at 125 through 165 pounds have only lost one match. In those three meets, the Hokies also have four wins over top 10 opponents.
The experience in Tech’s lower weights has been a major factor contributing to their success this season. It could play a large role against Pittsburgh this weekend who have four underclassman in those same six weight classes.
“We have got (Nick) Brascetta, who is really good number one, and then you know everyone else is all upperclassmen,” Dresser said. “You have a fourth year guy in (Zach) Neibert and then fifth year guys in (Jarrod) Garnett, (Jesse) Dong, and Yates. So finally we can say that Virginia Tech has experience on their side.”
Two days after the match against Pittsburgh, the wrestling team travels 100 miles to the north to take on the Fighting Scots of Edinboro. Contrary to the Panthers, Edinboro’s strength is at the lower weight classes.
A.J. Shopp and Mitchell Port, 133 and 141 pounds respectively, are both ranked at No. 5 in the nation at their weight class. Neibert, ranked at No. 7 in the 141-pound weight class, has already pulled off one upset this year against then No.4 Tyler Graff from Wisconsin and looks to keep the trend going against Port.
“Just wrestling hard, that is the key to all of my wins so far this year,” Neibert said. “Wrestling hard, wrestling through it, and making sure I go the full seven minutes or longer if needed. I just have to worry about what I have to do to win, not what he is going to do.”
A hand full of wrestlers not participating in the dual meets will be at Penn State for the Nittany Lion Open on Sunday. Among these wrestlers will be All-American Devin Carter wrestling unattached after taking a redshirt for his junior year.
These will be the Hokies last competitions before the Midlands Open on December 29th. Both Yates and Garnett made it to the finals last year but fell short, while teammate Devin Carter won the tournament at 133 pounds.
Being the last matches before the Midlands, coaches and wrestlers alike know that performing well at these dual meets will give them momentum heading into the tournament.
“We have been really pleased with the first four weeks of competition so for,” Dresser said. “We need to finish it off strong this weekend, take a little bit of a break, and then get ready for Midlands. One thing we are striving for this year is consistency. Good, consistent teams and athletes don’t have a week on and then a week off. We have to be good across the board.”