As we now enter the third week of September, the preseason workouts have started to get a little tougher. The weather is getting a little colder, and the roster battles are beginning to play out.
Today's lineup look takes us to Blacksburg, Virginia. As mentioned in our previous look at teams that could break into the top 10 this season, it has taken between three and four All-Americans on average to finish in that group over the past 10 years. Virginia Tech returns three AAs and has finished in the top 10 every year since 2013.
Below is our projected lineup for the Hokies, with 157 and 174 not having a clear-cut favorite at this time. In Tony Robie's first year as head coach, half the lineup could wind up being freshmen.
Virginia Tech Lineup125: Kyle Norstrem
133: Dennis Gustafson
141: Brent Moore
149: Solomon Chishko
157: Mekhi Lewis/Ryan Blees
165: David McFadden
174: Cody Hughes/Hunter Bolen
184: Zack Zavatsky
197: Jared Haught
285: Andrew Dunn
Kyle Norstrem will replace two-time AA Joey Dance after a 12-5 redshirt season and a 5-3 mark at University Nationals to place eighth. In the current six-team iteration of the ACC, the conference sent four wrestlers to NCAAs in 2015 and 2016 and three qualifiers last year. With three ACC guys ranked in the top 12 right now, Norstrem seems right on the bubble as a potential qualifier.
Dennis Gustafson is now in his final year of eligibility and has only qualified once for the national tournament. That was back in his true freshman year of 2014, so like Norstrem he will be fighting for his life to qualify, with Jamal Morris and Dom Forys the two favorites to make the conference finals right now. Both lightweights will benefit from the addition of Tyler Graff to the staff.
Brent Moore had a 25-7 season as a redshirt last season and was No. 56 on the Class of 2016 Big Board. Although he did not beat any NCAA qualifiers, he had 15 bonus-point wins, 10 of which were pins. Moore will do damage this year from the front headlock position.
Solomon Chishko is on pace to become the first wrestler in school history to be a four-time All-American. He starts the year ranked fourth at 149 after placing sixth at 141 in 2016 and sixth at 149 last year. The two-time Pennsylvania state champ still has some work to do from the bottom position, but the Hokies' schedule may prevent that from being an issue until March.
Chishko split with No. 3 Max Thomsen last year
Mekhi Lewis is one of a handful of freshmen in the country walking right in and contending for a starting spot. He's in a battle with former Oklahoma State Cowboy Ryan Blees, who was a spot starter in five duals last year. With four duals, the Hokie Open, and Journeymen Collegiate Classic all on the docket in November, we should know who the starter will be by CKLV. Lewis finished No. 19 on Class of 2017 Big Board.
David McFadden returns after redshirting last year. A 2016 All-American, he starts the year ranked No. 8 at 165 pounds. A former Who's #1 winner, he is one of many interesting wrinkles added to the field this year, including the guy he beat in the Snakepit, Isaiah White, who is now at Nebraska.
The other roster battle is at 174lb. With Zach Epperly forgoing his final year of eligibility, it is between Cody Hughes and true freshman Hunter Bolen. Like Blees, Hughes started in five duals last year and has 60 college matches on his resume. That may not be enough to hold off Bolen, a three-time Virginia state champ who finished his career No. 50 on the Class of 2017 Big Board.
Zack Zavatsky, aka ZZ Top, is looking to bounce back after not placing last year. He is a two-time ACC champ who starts the year ranked seventh. We all know the type of potential Zavatsky has, with wins over Myles Martin (see below), Willie Miklus, Matt Miller, Blake Stauffer, Drew Foster, Pete Renda, Vic Avery, and Hayden Zillmer.
Jared Haught could be VT's highest point scorer at NCAAs after placing fourth last year, though Robie may want Haught to pick up his bonus rate a little. He starts the year ranked No. 2 at 197 and will try to get revenge against Kollin Moore at CKLV for their third-place match in St. Louis.
No pressure on redshirt freshman Andrew Dunn, he just has to replace three-time All-American Ty Walz. Ho-hum. Dunn finished 16-4 in his redshirt year and has the type of high school credentials that suggest he could make a leap in the next year or two: three-time Beast of the East champ, two-time Escape the Rock champ, Pennsylvania state champ, and Super 32 champ.
The Hokies new coaching staff does not want a soft transition into its new regime. Virginia Tech has the firepower to once again place in the single digits as a team at the national tournament and will only graduate two seniors. With the rest of the ACC making a heavy push to catch and surpass them, VT can continue to set the standard in the small but accomplished conference.