The 2015-16 wrestling season marks Pat Popolizio’s fourth at the helm of the NC State wrestling program, as he was named head wrestling coach of the Wolfpack on April 10, 2012, and the results have already shown both on the mat and on the recruiting trail.
NC State has earned three All-America honors over the last two years, most in back-to-back years since 1992-93. In his three seasons, Popolizio has had 13 NCAA qualifiers - the most in a three year span since 2007-09. NC State posted top-20 finishes at the NCAA Championships each of the last two season for the first time since 1992-93.
The 2015 season marked one of the top seasons in NC State history, as the Pack’s 16th place finish at the 2015 NCAA Championships was the highest team finish since 1993. NC State had a pair of All-Americans for the first season since 1993, as redshirt junior Nick Gwiazdowski repeated as NCAA Champion at 285 pounds and became the first wrestler in school history to win multiple NCAA titles, and only the third ACC wrestler all-time to do so, and the first since 1995. Freshman Kevin Jack went from unseeded to a fifth place finish at 141 pounds. Gwiazdowski repeated as ACC Wrestler of the Year, while Jack was named the ACC Freshman of the Year.
NC State finished 2015 with a dual recrod of 16-6, with all but one of the losses coming to top-10 teams at the time of the dual. The 16 wins are the third-most in a single season at NC State, as only the 1985 (18) and 1988 (19) squads recorded more. NC State finished 3-2 in ACC dual action in 2015, placing second - its highest regular season finish since 2007 and an improvement from fifth place in 2014. The Pack finished the regular season ranked 17th nationally in the final USA Today/NWCA Coaches Poll. NC State is also ranked #14 by InterMat.com and #18 by FloWreslting.com heading into the NCAA Championships.
In just his second season in 2014, Popolizio added to the Pack’s storied tradition with NC State’s sixth individual national champion. Nick Gwiazdowski became NC State’s third heavyweight to win the NCAA title. Gwiazdowski, who finished the year with a 42-2 record, won the ACC heavyweight title and then plowed through the NCAA field, winning five straight matches and defeating the No. 1 seed in the tournament, two-time NCAA champion Minnesota’s Tony Nelson, to win the title. He became the first ACC wrestler to win a national championship since the Wolfpack’s Darrion Caldwell in 2009. He was named the ACC Wrestler of the Year.
In all, five NC State wrestlers qualified for the 2014 NCAA Championships, combining for a 10-8 record. Three wrestlers, Gwiazdowski, Tommy Gantt and Sam Speno, each won at least two matches. As a team, the Pack finished 19th overall, the second highest finish among all ACC schools and NC State’s highest finish since 2009.
The Pack also saw improvement in the classroom, with freshmen Michael Macchiavello and Pete Renda both named to the 2014 All-ACC Academic Team.
In his intital season as head coach for the Pack, NC State had three wrestlers qualify for the 2013 NCAA Championships, placing 63rd overall.
Following his first campaign, Popolizio and his staff signed a top-rated recruiting class in the spring of 2013. The Pack’s signees were ranked: No. 4 according to D1collegewrestling, No. 10 by both WIN Magazine and InterMat, No. 13 by the Open Mat/AWN and No. 14 by Flo Wrestling.
NC State made it two-for-two with a nationally ranked recruiting class in 2014, cited No. 19 by FloWrestling, No. 20 by TheOpenMat.com, and No. 25 by InterMat.
“Pat is a builder of programs and of young men,” said NC State AD Debbie Yow at the time of his hire. “He was an outstanding collegiate performer at Oklahoma State and is a proven teacher and mentor as a head coach. He will lead Wolfpack Wrestling to compete for ACC titles and, eventually, the national championship.”
In six seasons at Binghamton University (2007-12) , Popolizio transformed the Bearcats into a national contender after inheriting the program that went 0-12 following its reinstatement in 2005-06. Among his highlights with the Bearcats:
• 14th at the 2012 NCAA Championships
• 21st at the 2010 NCAA Championships
• 2010 CAA Champions
• Two-time CAA coach of the year (2012 and 2010)
• Candidate for national coach of the year in 2010
• Four All-Americans and 21 NCAA qualifiers over six seasons
• CAA Wrestler of the Year and CAA Rookie of the Year in both 2012 and 2010
• 15-4 dual meet mark in 2011-12 was a school record .789 winning percentage
• School record 16 wins in 2010-11
Binghamton’s meteoric rise on the mat has been mirrored in the classroom. Popolizio substantially improved the program’s Academic Performance Rate (APR) from 727 to 957 between 2006 and 2011. In his final season, the Bearcats earned individual 2012 National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) All-Academic honors and boasted 10 CAA Commissioner’s Academic Award honorees. In 2009, Popolizio’s team ranked 17th in the country academically. BU wrestlers also placed a high priority on community service, recently helping residents at emergency shelters and in their neighborhoods after historic flooding hit the area.
Prior to his stint at Binghamton, Popolizio was the lead assistant and recruiter at American University for two seasons, helping that program finish 17th in the country. At American, he coached seven NCAA qualifiers and the school’s first All-American. Prior to that, he served as an assistant coach at Army (2003-04) and Sacred Heart (2002-03). His team at Sacred Heart achieved the highest grade-point average of any wrestling program in the country.
Prior to entering the coaching ranks, Popolizio was a decorated wrestler during his student-athlete career for Oklahoma State coach John Smith, a six-time world champion. Among his highlights during his collegiate career:
• Three-time NCAA qualifier
• Won greater than 90 matches
• Ranked No. 1 in the country at 184 pounds during senior year
• Helped lead Oklahoma State to Top 5 national finishes (second, third, third and fifth) at NCAA Championships in each of his four seasons in Stillwater
• Big 12 runner-up in 1998 and 2002
• Fifth at the World Team Trials in 2003
• 2002 Oklahoma State Hustle Award
Popolizio graduated in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education. He was a two-time Big 12 All Academic selection and five-time recipient of the Oklahoma State Student-Athlete Award.
At the prep level, Popolizio was a New York state scholastic champion for Niskayuna High. He was named Most Outstanding Wrestler at the 1996 state prep meet, where he captured the 177-pound title, and went on to become the national high school runner-up.