Virginia Tech wrestling bounces back from brink of extinction
Saturday, February 6, 2010
BLACKSBURG, VA. -- When Coach Kevin Dresser arrived at Virginia Tech in 2006, he taped a quote next to the door of the Hokies' wrestling room. The line was supposed to be a motivational tool, but it has instead come to define Virginia Tech's program.
"Adversity weakens the weak and strengthens the strong."
Virginia Tech wrestling was in disarray when the resignation of its coach in 2006 led five wrestlers to sue the university after it denied their request to transfer. Administrators discussed scrapping the program, which started competing in 1920. Four seasons later, the Hokies are ranked 19th nationally and have built a talented foundation that should keep them there.
"I walked into basically starting a Division I program from scratch," Dresser said recently while sitting inside the Hokies' wrestling room. "It really took us about three years to where we felt like we were at ground zero. We're there and making progress. We didn't take this job to get second place. We want to be national champions."
Although Dresser already has had success, he said Virginia Tech is far from its potential because it has not built depth through years of recruiting. The Hokies, who won the first five bouts at No. 7 Lehigh on Friday night before falling, 24-12, have been competing this season without four injured starters and another who quit the team.
But with his brand of straight-talking, no-frills leadership, Dresser already has started to rebuild Virginia Tech's wrestling program.
"A lot of people doubted Dresser, but four years down the road, we're ranked in the top of the country," said Matt Epperly, who is ranked 20th nationally in the 165-pound weight class. "There's not much doubting you can do about that."
Virginia Tech was in shambles after its former coach, Tom Brands, left after two seasons to take over at his alma mater, Iowa, where he was a three-time national champion from 1989 to 1992. Since returning to Iowa City, Brands has led the Hawkeyes to national tournament championships in 2008 and 2009 and has coached five all-Americans.
The divorce between Brands and Virginia Tech was ugly. After Brands departed, five wrestlers tried to follow him to Iowa but were not released from their scholarships.
The wrestlers petitioned the university to no avail before suing the university and the athletic director, Jim Weaver, alleging a breach of commitment made to the wrestlers when they were recruited that would have allowed them to transfer without penalty or loss of eligibility. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2006.
Brands spoke highly of Virginia Tech and Weaver, saying the administration was committed to wrestling and the decision to leave was not easy because he enjoyed the community. But Brands did not like how the five wrestlers were treated after his departure.