Hokies’ Dresser discusses raising the bar at Sports Breakfast

Kevin Dresser

WINCHESTER – When Virginia Tech wrestling coach Kevin Dresser attended the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival as a featured speaker at the annual Sports Breakfast for the first time in 2011, the Hokies’ program was beginning its turnaround but was still barely a blip on the national radar. How things have changed over the last five years.

Back in Winchester for his second Apple Blossom experience on Saturday, Dresser addressed a capacity Sports Breakfast crowd not as a coach trying to help a fledgling team gain its footing, but as the leader of one of the top wrestling programs in the country.

Dresser’s closing remarks on Saturday morning summed up the Hokies’ rapid rise in his 10 seasons at the helm.

“The last time I spoke at Apple Blossom, we had not cracked the top 25. My first year (in 2006) we got 81st in the nation out of 81 teams. My next year we got 77 out of 77. That’s no fun. That’s hard. But hanging in there has worked really, really well. These last five years we’ve finished in the top 10 all five years and our guys got fourth in the nation this year, and we’ve followed this formula,” Dresser said, drawing rousing applause from the those in attendance at the Partlow Insurance Sports Breakfast held at the Winchester Moose Lodge.

Dresser’s 10th season at Virginia Tech this past winter proved to be the program’s best yet. The Hokies finished 16-2 in dual meets, including a 6-2 mark against nationally ranked opponents, and won their second straight ACC dual match title and their third in fourth seasons.

Virginia Tech ranked third in the final National Wrestling Coaches Association top 25 poll – the highest in the program’s history – and earned a team trophy at the NCAA Championships with a fourth-place team finish. Six Hokies earned All-American honors at the NCAA Championships, a school and ACC record.

“It’s not only the first time Virginia Tech’s had a trophy but it’s the first time any ACC school has had a trophy in the sport of wrestling,” Dresser said of Tech’s fourth-place finish. “That was big for us.”

Dresser said all eight wrestlers that the Hokies sent to New York City for the national championship tournament scored points, and seven of those wrestlers will return next season, including five All-Americans.

Dresser has been able to add to his arsenal with a seven-man recruiting class that includes Warren County High School senior Zach Beckner, who signed his commitment letter Friday afternoon.

“On average we can go after, obviously, a higher ranked or a higher caliber kid because we’ve earned the reputation of being a top 10 team,” Dresser said. “… We weren’t even a top 25 team when I was here last time. You’ve gotta kind of pick and choose and hopefully find some guys under the radar, and we were able to do that. But that’s the hard way sometimes.”

Dresser said Beckner, a two-time Virginia High School League Group 3A state champion who won the 126-pound title in February, was a wrestler he had been keeping a close eye on throughout the winter.

“I went to the state tournament just to kind of watch him. He was like one of the main guys I was watching this year,” Dresser said. “He was really dominating and I like his energy and I like his style. Obviously it’s a huge step, so we have to see, number one, how much he likes wrestling and number two, how much time he’s willing to put in. And if those two things happen we’re gonna be pretty happy with him.”

The Hokie head coach also weighed in on Beckner’s work ethic.

“I’ve heard he’s a tremendously hard working kid and that’s what it takes to make it at the next level,” said Dresser, who also coached wrestling at high school powerhouses Grundy and Christiansburg prior to joining Virginia Tech. “You’ve gotta love it and you’ve gotta be ready to get it and it sounds to me he’s that kind of guy.”

Dresser, who said he likes “getting good Virginia kids,” said he’s got recruiting interests at another local school as well.

“I can’t say any other names but there’s a guy down the road here at Sherando High School we’re real excited about,” Dresser said.

Sherando’s John Borst, a junior, won his second straight VHSL Group 4A state title this past year by beating Hanover’s T.J. Allen – a Hokie commit – in the 182-pound championship.

Dresser, who won an individual national championship as a wrestler at the University of Iowa in 1986, outlined “five things to be great” during his Sports Breakfast speech: having a plan, a strong work ethic, being tough, thinking differently and having fun.

He preceded the list by stressing the importance of having a central focus.

“There’s a saying out there, Bruce Lee said, ‘The successful warrior is the average man with laser-like focus,'” Dresser said, referencing the late martial artist and action film actor. “Trust me, I was very average. I trained with a lot of very average people but they won Olympic titles, they won world titles. They had great focus.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com