Cavaliers place third in ACC Wrestling Championship
Sulzer, Butler win first career ACC titles
The No. 12 Virginia wrestling team competed at the ACC Championships Saturday, March 8 in Blacksburg, Va. The Cavaliers (18-3, 5-1 ACC) placed third with 61.5 points, five-and-a-half behind second-place No. 10 Pittsburgh (13-3, 6-0 ACC). But No. 16 Virginia Tech (18-5, 4-2 ACC) stole the show — running away and claiming their second consecutive ACC title with 87 points.
Two Virginia wrestlers claimed individual titles: redshirt sophomore Blaise Butler won his two matches to emerge as the 157-pound champion and redshirt junior Nick Sulzer earned two victories and the top spot in the 165-pound bracket. Butler defeated an old high school rival in North Carolina State’s junior Tommy Gantt and Sulzer cruised to an easy 7-1 victory against redshirt sophomore John Staudenmayer of North Carolina. Both wrestlers were number-one seeds.
Butler’s season has come as a surprise to many — last year Butler was stuck behind 2013 All-American Jedd Moore for the 157 pound spot. However, his effort in 2014 greatly impressed the Virginia coaches.
“Blaise is the kid that does everything right,” coach Steve Garland said. “He never shies away from competition, and is not afraid to do work. Blaise wants to win and work, and that is the difference.”
Butler entered the weekend knowing he’d have to maintain that level of performance if he was to walk away with a conference title.
“In the first match I wanted to wrestle hard for seven minutes to set the pace” Butler said. “I set myself up for success with the one seed, so I knew I had to do what I’ve done all season to get my bid to the national championship.”
Redshirt senior Stephen Doty and redshirt sophomore Zach Nye also reached the final round of their respective weight classes. Doty, the second seed, lost in the final to redshirt junior Tyler Wilps of Pitt 7-2. Nye dropped a 10-6 decision to Hokie redshirt senior Chris Penny.
Including Butler, Sulzer, Doty, and Nye, seven Cavaliers received automatic bids to next week’s NCAA Championships in Oklahoma City. Joining the quartet are redshirt junior Joe Spisak, redshirt junior Gus Sako, and redshirt senior Jon Fausey. Virginia sent nine wrestlers to the NCAA tournament last year, and genuinely expected to match or exceed that total.
“To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement,” Garland said. “We have pretty high standards and wanted to get all ten through to nationals. We had a great regular season, and this doesn’t take away from it. However, it still hurts.”
Spisak was expected to qualify, but his performance took an unexpected path. The fourth seed at 141 pounds, he lost his first-round match against Maryland sophomore Shyheim Brown. Tar Heel junior Evan Henderson was Spisak’s draw in the consolation semifinals. Spisak nearly pinned Henderson with an early throw, but Henderson fought free. Henderson would return the favor in the second period as he locked in a tight cradle and pinned Spisak. Then, in the fifth-place match, Brown forfeited and gifted Spisak the bid.
For a moment it appeared as if Sako’s national championship dreams might not be realized. The number-one seed at 149 pounds, Sako was upset by Panther freshman Mikey Racciato in the semifinals. Racciato was able to sneak a quick five points early in the match, and would finish the first period up four. Sako was able to draw to within two, but was unable to secure the final takedown from the Fabian-like Racciato. Sako then battled back with two wins in the consolation bracket to claim third-place.
Fausey took fourth-place in one of the toughest brackets. Fausey would bear the battle scars of the 184-pound bracket and end the day with a wrapped knee and several bandages on his head. In the semifinals Fausey fell 2-0 in his rematch with Maryland senior and number one wrestler in the nation Jimmy Sheptock. Sheptock scored the match’s first point with a third-period escape, and his riding time advantage gave him his second point.
Fausey wrestled back to the consolation finals where he lost to Virginia Tech’s redshirt senior Nick Vetterlein 8-7. The match was close all the way, and Fausey battled for a potential game-winning takedown until the final whistle.
Aided by their home fans, the Hokies had secured the team title midway through the championship round. This massive gap in the team standings was unexpected as ACC Championships are typical closely contested — five of the last six have been decided by fewer than 10 points.
“[Virginia] Tech wrestled fantastically,” Garland said. “They deserve all the accolades thrown their way today.”