Friday, January 28, 2000
by Will Stewart

Tech Wrestlers Making Their Mark

Gradually, the buzz is starting to build about the Virginia Tech wrestling program.

With four wrestlers ranked in the Top 20 in their weight class, the Hokie wrestlers are rapidly making a name for themselves on both the team level and the individual level. Reports of their triumphs are starting to hit the newspapers and message boards, and Wednesday night, Channel 10ís Tom Booth ran a feature on the Tech wrestling team.

For the Hokie grapplers, the big break came a couple of years ago when they left the CAA and entered the tough Eastern Wrestling League (EWL). Sounds like a step down, right? After all, weíve heard of the CAA, an all-sports conference that is the home of many Virginia colleges and universities, but whatís an EWL?

And indeed, the roster of EWL teams reads like a hodgepodge, many of whom youíve never heard of: Bloomsburg, Clarion, Cleveland State, Edinboro, Lock Haven, Pittsburgh, Tech, and WVU.

But while that list wouldnít strike fear into the heart of say, a college football fan, it forms one of the top collegiate wrestling leagues in the country. In the latest NWCA (National Wrestling Coaches Association) poll released January 26th, the EWL placed four teams in the Top 25, and two others, including Tech, in the "Others Receiving Votes" category. Take a gander:

Rank

Team (1st Votes)

Record

Points

Last Poll

1

Iowa (13)

11-0

325

1

2

Iowa State

15-1

312

2

3

Minnesota

11-1

298

3

4

Oklahoma State

9-2-1

287

4

5

Oklahoma

12-3-1

271

5

6

Illinois

9-0

261

6

7

Nebraska

7-3

244

7

8

Michigan

8-1-1

216

8

9

Edinboro

10-0

214

9

10

Northern Iowa

6-3-1

201

10

11

Michigan State

4-1-1

192

11

12

Lehigh

13-2

175

13

13

Arizona State

6-7

169

17

14

Cornell

4-3

154

14

15

Pennsylvania

2-4

149

12

16

Cal-State Bakersfield

7-4

138

15

17

West Virginia

3-2-1

106

16

18

Wisconsin

8-1-1

104

19

19

Central Michigan

4-4-1

88

18

20

Boise State

5-3

57

20

21

Oregon State

6-4

55

21

22

Purdue

7-6

54

23

23

Indiana

7-4-1

48

22

24

Lock Haven

8-5

36

24

25

Bloomsburg

3-2-1

22

Unranked

Others receiving votes: Penn State 16, Hofstra 8, Pittsburgh 7, Ohio Univ. 3, Northwestern 3, Virginia Tech 3, Rider 3, Wyoming 1, Harvard 1, Fresno State 1.

Gazing over that list, it rapidly becomes obvious which conferences are tops in the country in collegiate wrestling: The Big Ten (feature perennial power Iowa, the Big 12, the PAC 10, the Ivy League, and the EWL Ö not necessarily in that order.

It also becomes obvious why the Hokies would leave the CAA for the EWL, even though the EWL means longer travel times for the Hokies. The CAA, which now only has 5 teams (American, Campbell, Old Dominion, James Madison, and George Mason), is not represented in the Top 25 at all, so the move to the EWL was a good one for Tech.

My wrestling contacts tell me that the Big Ten and the Big 12 (which only has 5 schools that wrestle) are arguably the only two conferences that are consistently more competitive than the EWL. In 1998, prior to Techís entry into the league, the EWL crowned 9 All-Americans and had 4 teams finish in the Top 25 at the NCAA Championships.

For reference on the All-American totals and how impressive that is, there are ten weight classes in wrestling, and each class has 8 All-Americans, for a total of 80 All-Americans. That means that the EWL had one of every 9 All-Americans that year.

Last year, Techís first year in the EWL, the league slipped a bit, with only 2 teams finishing in the Top 25, and only 6 All-Americans, but nonetheless, for a league with a funny name that doesnít even exist as an all-sports conference, itís pretty tough.

Observers call Techís entry into the EWL similar to the Hokie football teamís entry into the Big East Football Conference, and say that the EWL will do for the wrestlers what the BEFC did for Frank Beamerís team. As a matter of fact, you can argue that it already has done a lot for the Hokies.

Amateur Wrestling News ranks the top 20 wrestlers in each of the ten weight classes, and as of the January 25th rankings, the Hokies had 4 wrestlers place in the top 20 of their weight class:

Name (year)

Weight Class

Rank Within Class

Sean Gray (r-So.)

141-pound

9

Chris Martin (r-Jr.)

165-pound

12

Eric Hall (r-Jr.)

174-pound

15

Scott Justus (r-Fr.)

184 pound

19

The good news for the Hokie wrestlers is that the future looks bright. As you can see, none of the four ranked wrestlers listed are seniors, and in fact, the Hokiesí roster of 24 wrestlers (as listed on hokiesportsinfo.com) includes only 3 seniors, 7 juniors, 3 sophomores, and a remarkable 11 freshmen.

Last year, in their first year in the EWL, the Hokies took a beating, going 2-13 overall and 0-7 in the conference. One interesting sidebar is that all four ranked wrestlers above redshirted last year, as Tech wrestling coach Keith Mourlam and his team took one on the chin while building for the future.

But this year, things are already looking up, as the Hokies posted their first EWL win ever (over Bloomsburg, which was ranked 24th at the time) and won their first Virginia State championship last weekend.

In that Virginia State Intercollegiate Wrestling Championship, the Hokies won out over old CAA rivals JMU, GMU, and Old Dominion, as well as UVa, VMI, and Apprentice. My guess is that with their EWL allegiance and rapidly-improving program, the Hokies will continue to pull away from their in-state rivals. This is just the beginning.

The emergence of the Virginia Tech wrestling program is just another example of the Hokies rounding out their intercollegiate athletic programs. In the last two years, the womenís basketball team, softball team, and wrestling team have all made their mark, with the baseball team and menís and womenís tennis teams making noise in postseason competition, as well.

With Techís all-sports entry into the Big East a scant five or six months away (by the way, the wrestling team will remain in the EWL), the "Olympic Sports" at Virginia Tech are about to get another boost. Virginia Techís reputation as a one-sport university is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

To track VT wrestling and its rise through the ranks, hereís a handful of helpful links:

EWL Home Page
Hokiesports.com Wrestling Home Page
AWN Division 1 Individual Rankings
NWCA Division 1 Team Rankings
NWCA Home Page


Tech Bytes

Big Basketball Weekend. This weekend is a big one in Tech basketball. The Hokie women take on Dayton Friday night at 7 oíclock, and then meet up with arch-rival Xavier on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. In between, the Hokie men go up against a UMass team that isnít what it used to be in a 2 p.m. Saturday matchup. Itís hard to believe that when these two teams met in Cassell Coliseum four years ago, in February of 1996, that it was a battle of #1 versus #10. That game featured John Calipari versus Bill Foster and Marcus Camby versus Ace Custis. This weekend, it will just be a meeting between two .500 ball clubs, coached by Bruiser Flint and Ricky Stokes, and led by Monty Mack and Dennis Mims.

Vick for an ESPY. Tech quarterback Michael Vick is up for two ESPYís this year. An ESPY is a coveted ESPN sports award, and Vick has been nominated for College Football Player of the Year (he goes up against Ron Dayne and Joe Hamilton), while his scramble against WVU has been nominated for Play of the Year Ö for all sports, not just college football. And you can help Vick out by voting for him on ESPNís web site. Just click this link to cast your vote!

HCís Offensive Play of the Year. Speaking of Vick, his WVU scramble currently leads by a wide margin in HokieCentralís Offensive Play of the Year poll on the home page. If you havenít voted yet, return to the HC home page and cast your vote.

Hokie Club Links. HokieCentral has expanded the "Hokie Links" portion of its Links Page and has broken out links to Hokie Club web sites in a new subcategory. So if your Hokie Club chapter has a web site, email us the link, and weíll include it.

Football Recruiting Roundup. The annual Hokie Football Recruiting Roundup will once again be held at Greg Roberts Sports Club/Boomerís Deli in Roanoke, on Saturday, February 5th. There are three sessions scheduled for that day, one of which is already sold out, so if you want to attend, hurry up and reserve a spot. HCís own James Arthur will be providing the sound for the event, and Iíll be attending the 3 p.m. session. For more information, see this link, which can also be found on HokieCentralís Football Recruiting Page.

HokieCentral Introduces a New Basketball Message Board. In case you missed it, HokieCentral has introduced a new Basketball message board and has slightly revamped the top of each message board for clarity of presentation. Please check the home page and the message boards for links to the new basketball board, and please use that board to talk about hoops here at HC. The main board has been renamed the "Main/Football" message board, which sounds a little biased against basketball and other sports at Tech, but itís not meant to be. Itís done that way because around the Web, sites that link to HokieCentralís "message board" actually link to the football board, so it is also called the "main" board Ö hence, the ungainly name.

HC a Little Slow These Days? Weíve been getting reports from some of you that HokieCentralís web site and message boards are a little slow these days, or maybe a lot slow. It doesnít appear to be the HokieCentral server, but rather, traffic jams in the routing system of the Internet. Some locations load the site and the message boards very quickly (Iíve seen the main/football board load in less than three seconds at some corporate sites recently, even though itís over 100k in size now), while others load it very slowly. Hang in there, it should clear up eventually, and thereís not anything we can do on our end. If it helps, my own personal access at home and at the HokieCentral office is pretty slow right now, so, as the man says, "I feel your pain."

          

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