The Wolfpacker

July 2016

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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JULY 2016 ■ 117 grappler ever, he's on a short list numbered no more than three. Gwiazdowski was with the Pack for just three years but won 110 matches, posting the highest winning percentage in program history (110-3, .974) and falling just 12 wins behind all-time leader Sylvester Terkay, the first three-time ACC Wrestler of the Year who notched his tally in four years (Gwiazdowski won 30 matches as a rookie at Binghamton, putting his four-year total at 140). Even that doesn't really do justice to what he truly accomplished and how — Gwiaz- dowski went 14-1 at the NCAA Tournament with a 112-35 scoring advantage over his foes while representing the Pack. He never lost to an ACC opponent and dominated most, resulting in 13 pins, two technical falls (beating the opponent by 15 or more points), six major decisions (winning by eight to 14 points) and only five times was it even remotely close (seven or less). In dual meets, he was a sparkling 55-0 and had the match's outcome come down to him on five different occasions — each resulted in a Wolfpack win. To top it all off, he went 36-2 against ranked opponents. The two-time national champion won 88 matches in a row, an unprecedented streak at heavyweight that pulled the Pack to heights not seen as a team in more than 20 years. NCSU finished 23-1 in 2015-16, became the first team to ever beat powerhouses Iowa and Oklahoma State on the road in the same sea- son, and finished the regular season ranked an all-time best No. 2 na- tionally in the coaches' poll. That was followed by an ACC cham- pionship — in a tightly contested battle with Vir- ginia Tech, which later became the first conference team to place in the top four at nationals — and an 11th-place showing at the NCAA Championships that was the pro- gram's highest since 1993. The biggest reason — literally and figuratively — any of this was even possible was Gwiazdowski. NC State was a sub-.500 program in the five years before Popolizio and Gwiazdowski arrived. The meteoric rise was fueled by indi- viduals striving for heights similar to the big man, and the high-level recruiting classes, including the No. 1 group in 2016, that fol- lowed can also be attributed to the Delanson, N.Y., native. "He showed everybody that you can win a national title at NC State," Popolizio said. "Now you've got believers in this room and believers across the country that are follow- ing NC State." According to wrestling journalist and broadcaster Jason Bryant of Mat Talk Online, Gwiazdowski was the best Division I heavy- weight since the weight class' last three-time champion Carlton Haselrig, who did so at Pitts-Johnstown from 1987-89. The end of Gwiazdowski's 88-match streak of victories in March's NCAA finals to the youngest world champion in U.S. history, Ohio State's Kyle Snyder, could not tarnish a legacy that delivered such highs. Bryant explained the historic run is so im- pressive, "especially in that weight class. We don't see dominant heavyweights. There is so much balance and parity … it's so hard to go undefeated. "Heavyweight is a lot of one-move matches; one mistake can cost you the match and for Nick to not make that mistake in 88 straight bouts and beat a good group of guys speaks a lot about his talent and ability; it's definitely impressive. … If there's a Division I heavyweight you want me to put on my All- Century team or whatever, it's probably him." The Match The allure of the native New Yorker de- fending his title against Snyder — the 97-ki- logram favorite at this summer's Olympics who planned to redshirt in preparation for Rio, but returned in January to college wres- tling — at Madison Square Garden was impossible for wrestling fans to resist. Even those who weren't really fans of the sport tuned in to ESPN. Like he had been for much of his career, Gwiazdowski was the headlining attraction. The first period ended 0-0, but it was clear this was not the typical plodding heavyweight match and these weren't your average grapplers of 200 pounds or more. It was exciting and these were elite athletes going toe to toe in a back-and-forth affair. Gwiazdowski scored eight seconds into the second period and held a 3-1 lead at the end of the frame. As the whistle blew, ESPN's an- nouncers reminded observers that the NCSU star would become "perhaps the best heavy- weight in the modern era if he could win his third." Gwiazdowski added another takedown in the third with a scramble that would have been an impressive athletic feat for an athlete 150 pounds lighter to make it 5-3. With 30 seconds left, Snyder began to apply the pressure that allowed him to become a 19-year-old world champion last September. Gwiazdowski could've stalled his way to another title, but his trademark excit- ing style wouldn't allow him to be so passive. Gwiazdowski is just the fourth NC State wres- tler to earn three All-America honors at the school; he also earned the laurel his freshman year at Binghamton. PHOTO BY LARRY BLANKENSHIP

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