There’s dreaming big and then there’s the unthinkable.
N.C. State’s wrestling team pulled off the latter on Monday night with a 21-17 win at Iowa in the National Duals Championship Series.
With the win, sealed by heavyweight Nick Gwiazdowski’s injury default decision over Sam Stoll in the final match, N.C. State became the first ACC team ever to beat the Hawkeyes.
Coupled with a win earlier this season at Oklahoma State, N.C. State is the first wrestling program anywhere to win at both Iowa and Oklahoma State in the same season.
The Cowboys and Hawkeyes aren’t just top 5 programs this season, they are wrestling dynasties. The two have 57 national championships between them.
“If you really slow down and put it in perspective, and add up all the national titles, it’s amazing,” N.C. State coach Pat Popolizio said. “It’s a special win for our guys in what has been a special season.”
It’s a special win for our guys in what has been a special season.
N.C. State coach Pat Popolizio
The win pushed N.C. State to 23-1 on the season and No. 2 in the USA Today coaches’ poll. In putting together the best regular-season in school history, the Wolfpack has wins over three top 10 teams and seven top 25 teams. Penn State is ranked No. 1.
Since dropping its only dual meet to Virginia Tech on Feb. 12, the Wolfpack beat No. 6 Missouri (18-17) and No. 4 Iowa (21-17) in an eight-day span.
Gwiazdowski, a two-time NCAA champion, won the deciding match against both Mizzou and Iowa to clinch the win for the Wolfpack. The fifth-year senior has won 82 straight matches and finishes his dual meet career with a 55-0 record for the Wolfpack.
“I mean, can you ask for a better guy to go out on the mat in that situation?” Popolizio said. “He’s our closer.”
Gwiazdowski was beating Stoll 8-1 before an injury stopped the match, awarding N.C. State, which had trailed 17-15, the deciding six points.
Kevin Jack won by a technical fall in the 141-pound class and Tommy Gantt had a major decision at 157 pounds to key the Wolfpack win.
Technically, N.C. State’s success in dual meets doesn’t carry over to either the ACC championships, which start March 6 in Charlottesville, Va., or the NCAA championships. But, Popolizio said, there’s more than just confidence to be gained from the big wins.
“It validates your program,” Popolizio said. “When we say we can compete with any program in the country, it’s the truth.”
The Big Ten has recently dominated college wrestling, and historically it has been a sport for Midwestern states.
The ACC has never had a team finish higher than fifth in the NCAA championships. N.C. State’s best finish, seventh place, came in 1993.
But the Wolfpack keeps proving its skeptics wrong with each historic win.
“Everybody keeps doubting N.C. State,” Popolizio said. “They keep saying we’re a fluke, and we got lucky. I guess we’re a pretty lucky team, that’s all I say.”
Popolizio, who wrestled at Oklahoma State in the early 2000s, does understand the history of the sport and the success of programs like Iowa and his alma mater. He also understands the ACC’s struggles to this point.
“ACC wrestling doesn’t get any respect,” Popolizio said. “It’s our job to earn it.”
The Wolfpack earned a chunk with Monday's improbable win, but there’s still more to be had.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio