NC State

NC State's national champion wrestler an in-state, underdog success story

N.C. State's Michael Macchiavello celebrates after defeating Virginia Tech's Jared Haught during the 197-pound championship match of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, Saturday, March 17, 2018, in Cleveland.
N.C. State's Michael Macchiavello celebrates after defeating Virginia Tech's Jared Haught during the 197-pound championship match of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, Saturday, March 17, 2018, in Cleveland. AP

There were a number of reasons why N.C. State's Michael Macchiavello wasn't expected to win an NCAA wrestling championship.

They didn't matter as the final seconds ticked away in his 197-pound title bout with Virginia Tech's Jared Haught on Saturday. With just 10 seconds left, Macchiavello — seeded fourth entering the tournament — notched a takedown to earn a 3-1 victory for the Wolfpack's eighth individual national title.

But those same reasons, which Macchiavello himself can rattle off himself in chronological order, make his title all the sweeter.

"If you ask anyone in the wrestling world or people outside of the N.C. State wrestling program, it's not somewhere I was supposed to be, especially coming in as a freshman," Macchiavello said. "I was a one-time North Carolina state champ, I was not nationally-ranked as a recruit, I had a losing record my freshman year in college, I was (about) .500 my sophomore year."

Coming from North Carolina makes his story all the more unlikely.

Macchiavello went to Sun Valley High near Monroe and won the 2013 4A title, but the state isn't a recruiting hotbed for Division I coaches. Only one other North Carolina wrestler had ever won a Division I NCAA title and it was 34 years ago.

"I think a lot of people have in-state pride here," Wolfpack wrestling coach Pat Popolizio said. "So to do it with a kid from North Carolina sets that bar high and lets kids know in the state you can win a national title if you do things right, work hard."

Popolizio said he noticed Macchiavello's maturity right away in the recruiting process and thought it would serve him well in college.

"His maturity was something that caught our eye," Popolizio said. "He listened, he made very smart decisions and when he came here he bought into everything we were doing. Everybody thinks you have to be a three- or four-time state champ to be successful in college, and he proves that if you do things right you can win a national title."

NCAA Wrestling Championships.JPG
Virginia Tech's Jared Haught, bottom, and North Carolina State's Michael Macchiavello watch as the clock runs down during the 197-pound championship match of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, Saturday, March 17, 2018, in Cleveland. Michael Macchiavello won the match. David Dermer AP

Macchiavello joins the late Tab Thacker, N.C. State's 1984 NCAA heavyweight champ who was from Winston-Salem (West Forsyth High), as the second homegrown wrestler to win it all.

"I've had a lot of North Carolina wrestlers reach out to me," Macchiavello said. "Former teammates, other North Carolina wrestlers in college just told me 'You've inspired me, man.' They're just extremely motivated right now and coming from the state of North Carolina, we already come into college wrestling with a chip on our shoulders."

Macchiavello went just 11-14 as a freshman and 9-8 as a sophomore before redshirting his junior year to improve technique. He finished 10th in the country last year, but never won a conference title.

This season, he made the difficult move from the 184-pound weight class to 197.

Two of his three losses this year came to his title bout opponent. Haught defeated Macchiavello 2-1 in the regular season and 6-4 in triple overtime in the ACC Championship match.

"For us, that's what makes this really special," Popolizio said.

Thanks to Macchiavello's win, N.C. State tied for fourth in the NCAA tournament, which is tied for the highest finish ever by an ACC team. N.C. State now has as almost as many individual national titles since Popolizo was hired in 2013 (three) as it had in all of its prior existence (five).

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