The Wolfpacker

July 2016

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 117 of 163

116 ■ THE WOLFPACKER BY RYAN TICE W hen Nick Gwiazdowski came to NC State after earn- ing All-America honors as a freshman wrestler at Bing- hamton, he was in for a rude awakening. With the heavyweight redshirting in 2012-13, the Wolfpack went 5-6 overall and 0-5 in the ACC before finishing 63rd at the NCAA Championships. It became obvious very quickly there wasn't as much talent or commitment in the wrestling room as there was at his old school, which finished 14th nationally the year before despite not being fully funded for scholar- ships. The fan support was even better at the much smaller school in New York, where Gwiazdowski estimated an important dual would draw 500-600 fans — that was cer- tainly not the case in Raleigh. "After what I saw from Reynolds the first few years," he admitted, "I thought there's no shot [to match the support at Binghamton]." "I can remember year one, looking up in the stands and it was just like you could hear the people talking because it was so quiet in there," added head coach Pat Popolizio, who Gwiazdowski followed from Binghamton. Despite the Pack being displaced at the state fairgrounds with Reynolds undergoing its $35 million facelift in Gwiazdowski's final year, nearly every event was filled to capacity with more than 1,000 fans, including many standing between the provided seating of whichever building housed the match. Even when going directly up against the Carolina Panthers' 31-24 playoff win Jan. 17, a packed Dorton Arena witnessed a 35-7 shellacking of Virginia. An estimated 2,000 showed up to watch NC State top UNC 28-8 eight days later. When matches were moved back to the cozier Holshouser Building for the final two home meets, fans lined up more than an hour in advance to make sure they secured a seat. "We really became a serious wrestling school," Gwiazdowski said. "That's probably been one of the coolest things, to really see something transform in a short period of time and being as important to it all as I feel I was. "I think people just like winning — NC State is NC State, it doesn't really matter the sport, so they were able to connect to it." The support and attention the team received this season had never happened before at NC State, but it's not typical to have an ath- lete in action like Gwiazdowski, who helped return the program to — and then arguably eclipsed — its past glory. The Wolfpack faith- ful wanted to see him before he wrapped up the most storied wrestling career in school history and one of the most dominant in ACC annals regardless of sport. This year, Gwiazdowski took his rightful place in Wolfpack lore, alongside three-time basketball All-American David Thompson and 2003 ACC Player of the Year Philip Riv- ers. All three are among the seven athletes in school history that have won two H.C. Ken- nett Awards, the highest athletic achievement the school has awarded since 1962. Heavyweight Accomplishments The big man was a four-time All-Ameri- can, the wrestling team's first-ever two-time NCAA champion (only the third in ACC annals), and just the second three-time ACC Wrestler of the Year (an award that has been given every season since 1991). The con- sensus is that if he's not the league's finest LASTING LEGACY Heavyweight Wrestler Nick Gwiazdowski Is One Of NC State's — And The ACC's — Best Athletes Ever MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR NICK GWIAZDOWSKI

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