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Wrestling looks to repeat victory at ACC Championships

Cavaliers to host conference tournament at John Paul Jones Arena

<p>Senior heavyweight Pat Gillen enters the ACC Championships as the No. 4 seed in his weight class.&nbsp;</p>

Senior heavyweight Pat Gillen enters the ACC Championships as the No. 4 seed in his weight class. 

The Virginia wrestling team went into last year’s ACC Championships as the underdog. While the team was ranked No. 18 nationally, they had a losing conference record of 2-3 and were seeded fourth overall. The Cavaliers walked into the hostile Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. with something to prove — and they left as champions.

Last year’s Virginia squad sent six wrestlers to the championship finals, and none of the team’s 10 wrestlers finished lower than fourth place. The Cavaliers earned their fifth ACC title in program history, and did so convincingly, finishing with 85.5 points to second-place Pittsburgh’s 71.

This year, the Virginia team will attempt to defend their ACC title and win their sixth championship. This time, however, they get to try and do it at home. The tournament will be held Sunday at John Paul Jones Arena, and the action will kick off at 11 a.m.

The Cavaliers (6-7, 1-4 ACC) dropped out of the rankings at the end of the regular season after suffering a tough loss to No. 25 Chattanooga. Virginia had a challenging schedule, facing several nationally-ranked teams in the regular season.

“We’ve always been training for the ACCs and the national tournament,” coach Steve Garland said. “Coach [Keith] Gavin has been running amazing practices, and our guys have been training and working hard.”

However, the Cavaliers will be looking to bounce back in the ACC Championships, after losing their last three straight matches to end the season. Not only have the losses been tough, but they’ve also been heartbreaking. Virginia lost their final two duals of the season by three points combined.

It won’t get any easier for the Cavaliers in the championship. No. 2 N.C. State and No. 3 Virginia Tech, who are coming in as the one and two seeds in the tournament, make up the highest-ranked pair in ACC wrestling history. The Hokies (16-2, 5-0 ACC) are undefeated in the conference, while the Wolfpack (23-1, 4-1 ACC) boasts an incredible out of conference record, with a lone loss to Virginia Tech. N.C. State also has four wrestlers with No. 1 seeds in the tournament, all who are undefeated in ACC dual competition.

Virginia will be looking to bring back some of their tournament magic this weekend, as they return four of their wrestlers that made it to the championship round last year.

Junior George DiCamillo, who is undefeated in ACC dual competition, earned a No. 1 seed in the 133-pound weight class. DiCamillo is the highest-ranking member of the team at No. 6 nationally in his weight class. The junior will be going for his third ACC title as a Cavalier.

Senior Zach Nye, who also made it to the championship round last year, will be eager to win a title before he graduates, after sitting as the runner up for the last two years. Nye, currently ranked No. 13 nationally at 197 pounds, went on a three-game losing streak late in the season, but won his last match against Pittsburgh senior Nick Bonaccorsi to get out of his slump.

Sophomore Andrew Atkinson is another Virginia wrestler who earned a championship round bid last year. Atkinson, who competes in the 157 pound weight class, has been putting up fights against tough opponents all year.

In last year’s tournament, Atkinson fell in the championship round to Virginia Tech senior Nick Brascetta. The pair competed again this year in the dual match between the Cavaliers and the Hokies, and Atkinson fought back against the No. 5 ranked senior, pushing the bout into extra periods before falling by sudden victory. The bout was praised as one of the best of the season, and it will be interesting to watch if the two wrestlers meet again in the ACC tournament.

“It was two warriors going at it,” Garland said. “It was one of the most amazing matches of the year.”

There was a trio of wrestlers who placed fourth last year in the tournament, helping propel the Virginia team to the overall tournament win. One of those three was Cavalier senior Patrick Gillen, one of the team’s leaders in his final season.

Much like the whole Virginia team, Gillen is coming into the tournament with much to prove, receiving a No. 4 seed in the heavyweight class. The senior is looking forward to a big win, and the thrill of ACC tournament competition.

“We don’t peak for dual meets,” Gillen said, “We want to build on our training and be our absolute best for the end of the year.”

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