The Wolfpacker

November 2015 Issue

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 129 of 155

128 ■ THE WOLFPACKER Popolizio is quick to note "nothing is guaranteed in life or this sport," but the team might boast the closest thing to a sure bet in college wrestling with Gwiazdowski, the only two-time champ in program his- tory and just the third in ACC annals. The former Binghamton transfer (he followed Popolizio to Raleigh) has never lost a dual match during his time at NCSU. He also has not been defeated in a college match since January 2014 — when he fell to the previous two-time NCAA champ, whom Gwiazdowski beat for his first title. "Every time you think he's content with where he's at, he takes it to a new level," Popolizio said. "This is probably the most focused I've seen him. He wants to do something no one has ever done before, and I think he knows he needs to really step it up." The coach has seen the same thing from many of his other wrestlers. It's tough for lesser accomplished teammates to justify not doing the things that one of the top college athletes in the country, regardless of sport — Gwiazdowski opens the season No. 2 in Flo's pound-for-pound rankings of all college wrestlers — is doing every day. Popolizio also believes in scheduling tough to test his team throughout the year, and that will be the case with traditional powerhouses like Minnesota, Oklahoma State, Nebraska and Missouri populating the slate. While that could result in some dual-meet and individual losses, the for- mula is proven after the squad has recorded back-to-back top-20 finishes for the first time since 1992-93. "Obviously, you want to win everything, but ultimately I'm trying to prepare our team to wrestle their best at nationals," he explained. "I know we have a really experienced, really talented team, but that doesn't always mean you're a great dual- meet team. I do think we're going to put ourselves in position to compete with ev- erybody that we wrestle against this year. "I just want to see where we stand with some of these programs like Minnesota. I think we can compete with them right now, and we need to start beating teams that are at that level." With Gwiazdowski leading the way, his- tory is squarely in the Pack's cross hairs. "We've probably got five to seven guys who have the ability to place at the national tournament," Popolizio concluded. "Let's try to do something we haven't done here and have the most All-Americans NC State has ever had. "I think it's very realistic for us to fin- ish the national tournament in the top 10. That's probably putting the bar higher than we should, but if we fall short and finish 12th, that's still pretty good. "With the way we're training and the mentality that we're instilling in our guys, I think 10th or higher is where we need to finish." ■ Three Wrestlers To Watch Fifth-year senior Nick Gwiazdowski, heavyweight The big man is working to become only the second three-time national champion at heavyweight — Pitt- Johnstown's Carlton Haselrig, who was an NFL Pro Bowl selection in 1992 despite never playing in college, was the first. In July, "Gwiz" won his first international tournament — the Spanish Grand Prix — and his goal is to represent the U.S. in the 2016 Olympics. Sophomore Kevin Jack, 141 pounds Jack came out of nowhere last season to place fifth nationally — for a comparison, Gwiazdowski finished eighth as a true freshman. En route to his All-America showing, he knocked off the No. 5, No. 12, No. 4 and No. 11 seeds, including a four-time ACC champion. With his early-season performances in open tournaments, he set a new NCSU rookie record with 31 wins. Fifth-year senior Tommy Gantt, 157 pounds While redshirting last winter, Gantt won four of the five open tournaments he entered, beat three grapplers ranked in the nation's top 20 and went 23-1. He is 58-11 over the past two years. ■ By The Numbers 7 NC State dual-meet opponents are ranked in FloWrestling's preseason top 20 — Oklahoma State (No. 2 preseason rank), Old Dominion (No. 15), Edinboro (No. 16), UNC (No. 11), Nebraska (No. 10), Virginia Tech (No. 5) and Missouri (No. 7). 16 NCSU's finish at nationals last year, the sec- ond-best showing among ACC squads and the school's best NCAA performance since placing an all- time best seventh in 1993. 55 Consecutive wins over the past two seasons for fifth-year senior heavyweight Nick Gwiaz- dowski, who is 97-3 during his time at NCSU (including his redshirt year) and has an official record of 107-11 in college (not counting his redshirt year). Noting The Pack • With the Reynolds Coliseum renovation under- way, the Wolfpack will wrestle their home matches at different venues in the area this year. Their dual tournament Nov. 21 will be held at Cary Academy, their open tournament the next day will be con- tested at Carmichael Gymnasium, and their home duals will be conducted at the NC State fairgrounds. One bout comes at Dorton Arena, while the other four will be housed in the Holshouser Building. • The Wolfpack Olympic Regional Training Cen- ter has opened and boasts several accomplished grapplers. Head coach Pat Popolizio said having international competitors on campus helps take the program from "good to great." Some members include assistant coach Adam Hall, a two-time NCAA All-American, and volun- teer assistant Obe Blanc, a two-time USA World Team member. Hope Mills, N.C., native Timmy Mc- Call, who wrestled at Wisconsin, and NCSU alum Quinton Godley are also members, along with Gwiazdowski, Gantt and several others off the current roster. While those athletes are still chasing their dreams, the coaching staff also features an Olympic bronze medalist (1984) in director of student- athlete development Noel Loban. ■ Key Matches • Vs. North Carolina, Jan. 25 — The rivals are both ranked in the top 11 by FloWrestling heading into the season. The Pack boasts five individuals in the top 20, including four in the top 10, while the Heels have four and three, respectively. • Vs. Virginia Tech, Feb. 12 — The Hokies were the ACC's top finisher at the NCAA Championships last year, placing 10th, and open the season fifth in the FloW - restling rankings. The ACC favorites have seven wrestlers listed in the preseason top 20, and many of their best grapplers are in the same weight class as NC State's top guys. The 141, 157, 184 and heavyweight weight classes should feature ranked competitors on both sides, while 157 and heavyweight could be top-five matchups. • At NCAA Championships (New York City), March 17-19 — The Pack's tough schedule is meant to help the team perform its best in the most important meet of the season. The squad could come away with their best finish in a long time — or ever. Anything is possible when you've got a two-time champ leading the way. Sophomore 141-pounder Kevin Jack set a NCSU rookie record with 31 wins last year and placed fifth at the NCAA Championships de- spite competing in just three regular-season duals. PHOTO COURTESY NC STATE MEDIA RELATIONS

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