VT Wrestling: Kill Bill (Brill) Volume 2
by Bill Glose, 1/20/05

VT wrestling coach Tom Brands (front),
pictured here as an assistant at Iowa.

By now, the words of former Roanoke Times Sports Editor Bill Brill, are infamous: ďTech will not win an ACC championship in my lifetime.Ē As the Tech football team rallied to win an ACC championship in their first year, Hokies around the commonwealth expressed heartfelt sympathy for Mr. Brill, who certainly must have just passed away.

Hokie athletes in other sports did what they could to show how wrong Brillís appraisal of Tech sports is, and always has been. In the first-ever ACC game for any Hokie sport, the womenís soccer team knocked off Maryland 2-0 and ended the season by earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Womenís basketball followed in their footsteps by winning its first-ever ACC game by beating then-17th-ranked Maryland. The swimming and diving teams won 5 of its first 6 ACC dual meets, menís soccer beat #1 Duke and #2 Virginia during the season, and the menís basketball team just notched two straight wins over ACC foes with stunning last-second victories over Clemson and NC State. Also the Menís Track & Field team is ranked #23 in the nation.

But in case the curmudgeonly Brill - or any other elitist who thought the Hokies didnít belong in the conference - is still hanging on to his misconceptions, the wrestling squad opened their first ACC dual meet with a dominating performance over Virginia, trouncing them 32-0, then followed up by beating Duke this past weekend to gain sole possession of first place in the ACC. Hmm, this is beginning to sound familiarÖa team that supposedly didnít belong beats two of the conferenceís top teams (UVA and Duke finished second and third last year) to rise to the top of the standings. Is it possible that Bill Brill could have been that wrong? Might the Hokie faithful have to dig up Brillís casket and bury him again?

Over the past three years, Hokie grapplers only won a total of 11 dual meets while competing in the Eastern Wrestling League, but this year they have already won 10. Tech has taken on a grueling schedule, traveling around the country to face some of the nationís top teams. Their only losses this year have been on the road against ranked opponents: #9 Iowa, #13 Missouri, #17 Northern Iowa, and #23 Tennessee-Chattanooga. As with basketball, where facing top competition during the season prepares a team to peak during the NCAA tourney, the Hokiesí competitive schedule should give them a serious edge on ACC competition. To date, Tech has wrestled 12 dual matches out of conference; the rest of the six-team conference has competed in 18 OOC matches combined, with the highest amount by any other school being 6 matches.

When the Hokies moved to the ACC, Virginia Tech Athletic Director Jim Weaver made a conscious decision to put considerable backing behind the wrestling program. In addition to the financial expenses of the expanded national schedule, Tech hired one of the nationís top coaches, Tom Brands, to lead the Hokies on the mats. Brands was named the 2002 and 2003 Freestyle Coach of the Year and is a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. As an assistant coach at Iowa, Brands helped the Hawkeyes win seven NCAA team and 23 individual titles.

Before coaching, he was one of the nationís top wrestlers. He was a four-time All-American wrestler for perennial powerhouse Iowa. From 1990-92 he was a three-time NCAA Division I champion and was named Outstanding Wrestler of the 1992 NCAA Championships. After college, Brands won four U.S. Nationals titles (1993-96), two World Cup gold medals (1994 and 1995), an Olympic gold medal (1996), and was named the 1995 Pan American Games champion. Coach Brands is being considered for the NCAA 75th Anniversary Team.

The addition of such an important figure in the wrestling world to Virginia Tech was a huge step forward for the program, but Brands added yet more credibility by hiring two assistant coaches who were also tops in the nation, Wes Hand and Doug Schwab. Schwab was a three-time All-American and the 1999 NCAA Champion at 141 pounds, while Hand was the 2001 NCAA runner-up at the heavyweight spot.

As Kevin Costner says in Field of Dreams, ďIf you build it, they will come.Ē The saying holds true no matter what the sport (or whether youíre talking about real athletes instead of ghosts in a cornfield). Brands signed his first recruiting class this past November, and it is Techís best recruiting class ever. InterMat rates it in the top five nationally, including one wrestler (Brent Metcalf) who they say might be the best in the nation. The others in the early signing class are Jay Borschel, Daniel LeClere, T.H. Leet, and Joey Slaton. (For more news on each of these recruits, visit
http://www.hokiesports.com/wrestling/recaps/11232004aaa.html). 

These recruits wonít enroll until the fall of 2005, but one wrestler who came to Tech because of the new coaching staff is already making an impact. After wrestling two seasons at the University of Pennsylvania, Junior Mike Faust transferred to Tech. He redshirted last year to train for the Olympics, and though he didnít travel to Athens, he did place sixth at the Olympic Trials. This year he is ranked #19 in the nation in his weight class. Currently, only two ACC teams have wrestlers ranked in InterMatís Top 20 Individual Standings: North Carolina has 1 wrestler (Evan Sola, #9 at 133 pounds) and VT has 3 (David Hoffman, #8 at 133 pounds; Chris Stith, #20 at 165 pounds; and Mike Faust, #19 at 285 pounds).

Giving their all: Tech wrestler Mike Faust shows off
his damaged, swollen ear, a common condition for
wrestlers, at a VT football game last fall.

NC State will be the true litmus test for the wrestling program. The Wolfpack has won three of the last four ACC Wrestling Championships, including last yearís. As with football, which finished with a showdown between Tech and Miami, the final ACC match scheduled this year will be between the conferenceís top two teams when Tech travels to NC State on February 19. Tech and NC State faced each other earlier this season in the Navy Classic, where Tech finished second with 152 points and NC State finished third with 126. If Tech can knock off NC State, they are in good position to win their second championship in their first season in the league. They are already poised to become the dominant power in ACC wrestling for years to come.

Poor Bill Brill. He must be rolling over in his grave.

NOTE: If you wish to see Virginia Tech on the mats this year, your last chance to see them in an ACC match at home is this Saturday (Jan. 22) when they host the University of Maryland. Match time is 5 p.m. in Cassell Coliseum. They have one more match at home after that on Feb. 12 against North Carolina-Greensboro.

          

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