The Wolfpacker

Nov-Dec 2021

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 43 of 51

44 ■ THE WOLFPACKER BY RYAN TICE or a long time, head wrestling coach Pat Popolizio's office featured a sign behind his desk with a simple motto: Nothing changes if nothing changes. In its place now is a collec- tion of memorabilia and photos of his time at NC State. There's been plenty to commemorate, and of course, there are trophies and championship rings. He's won four ACC titles in his first nine years, plus three more regular-season crowns. The first team trophy for a top- four finish at the NCAA Championships in school history — just the second in ACC wrestling annals — overlooks his desk. Many of those adornments are possible because of the motto that may not physi- cally reside inside the office anymore, but was never far from the inhabitant's mind after coming to Raleigh. When Popolizio took over prior to the 2012-13 season, the Wolfpack had not fin- ished with a winning record in five straight seasons. NC State went 37-57-2 in that span, had won three ACC matches in the last four campaigns and had a best finish of 44th nationally in the last three. To put it kindly, expectations were not met, on or off the mat. After 10 top-17 NCAA finishes in a 14- year span from 1980-93, the team had not reached those heights since. Its only top-20 showing in the interim — 18th in 2009 — was thanks to national champion Darrion Caldwell. He was the tournament's most outstanding wrestler and is now a profes- sional MMA fighter nicknamed 'The Wolf,' a nod to his time at NC State when he seemed to be the 'lone wolf' having success. Outside of Caldwell, the rest of the Pack won one match at NCAAs in 2009. Director of athletics Debbie Yow was fine if everything changed under Popolizio. In fact, that's what she hired him to do. "We weren't doing very well competi- tively, and we had some issues off the mat," she recently recalled. "I wanted consistent discipline. I wanted it to be understood from day one by the student-athletes what was expected." A Coach From 'Some Place Called Binghamton' The wrestling world knew who Popo- lizio was in 2012. He had just completed his sixth season F

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