NC State wrestling completes perfect season, wins ACC dual title
In eighth-year head coach Pat Popolizio’s time at the helm of NC State wrestling, his charges have set basically every record in program history.
While leading the team to a record six straight top-20 NCAA finishes, the Wolfpack has boasted its first multiple-time national champion, captured its first team trophy for a top-four NCAA placement and set countless other marks.
Friday night’s 34-9 win over Duke completed the first undefeated dual season in school history. Despite the 15-0 ledger to finish as one of just two undefeated programs nationally, the Pack was listed No. 3 in the land in the final NWCA coaches' poll of the season. That stands as the second-highest finish in program history.
It also marked the third straight year where the team clinched as least a share of the ACC regular-season conference championship and the team's fifth straight year finishing among the nation's top 10 in the coaches' vote.
“I’m just happy for the guys, their work and the coaches — everything they’ve been doing,” Popolizio said. “It’s a good feeling when you don’t take a loss all year. As individuals, we have, so we’ve been tested and know we’ve got things to work on.
“For the team, I think it speaks volumes to have this type of season, dealing with any kind of adversity that gets thrown at them during a college season. There were multiple times guys were out and other guys had to step up, so I think that defines what NC State wrestling is about right now.”
The slate was tough enough that when the NCAA updated its RPI rankings (which lists wrestlers based on results and strength of schedule) Feb. 9, in the nine weight classes NC State had enough matches to qualify, all nine were listed among the nation’s top 22 and six were in the top eight. And that was before they wrestled in the ACC’s marquee dual against fellow national power Virginia Tech.
“You look at certain weights and feel like we’ve wrestled the highest-ranked guys possible,” Popolizio said. “Some — just by the way the schedule fell — didn’t, but I know come NCAAs we will see the best guys, and it’s game on.”
Even while beaming with an ACC trophy in hand and talking about his team’s perfect regular season, Popolizio mentioned he’s even more proud of another record that was accomplished this season — the all-time dual attendance mark at Reynolds Coliseum, set Feb. 7 when 4,383 fans took in the Wolfpack’s thrilling 19-14 win over North Carolina.
The team drew well all year and also set a new record for average home dual attendance (2,133), powered by three of the school’s six most well-attended meets ever this season and some incredible atmospheres.
“I’m excited most importantly about all the support we’ve been getting from NC State fans, alumni and new people in Raleigh,” Popolizio said. “I think that said a lot with the last couple duals and the attendance that we had.
“The attendance record is huge. To me, that’s probably up there with any accomplishment as an athlete or a coach. That was one of the biggest ones to me. I know there are no trophies for it, but it speaks for the movement that is going on with our program and the sport of wrestling, which I love.”
Of course, in wrestling the slate is essentially wiped clean at the start of the postseason (the ACC Championships are March 8). Everybody might as well be 0-0 because all that the regular season counts for now is seeding, and everything from here on depends on tournaments results.
And confidence, according to Popolizio.
“I think now it comes down to individuals that believe they can win conference titles and national titles,” he said. “The difference really comes down to these guys believing in themselves.
“I know what we’ve done has prepared them, and we’re going to continue to get better, but ultimately it’s going to be individuals and if they believe they’re ready to place [at the NCAA Championships] this year, if they believe they’re ready to win a national title.”