The 2016-17 wrestling season marks Pat Popolizio’s fifth 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.
Popolizio has led NC State to three straight top-20 finishes at the NCAA Championships, the longest such stretch in school history since 1991-93. Over the last three seasons, NC State has finished 19th in 2014, 16th in 2015 and 11th in 2016.
NC State has earned six All-America honors in the last three years, the second-highest total in a three-year span in school history. In his four seasons overall, Popolizio has had 21 NCAA qualifiers, the most in a four-year span since 1993-96.
On the recruiting trial, NC State’s 2016 12-person signing class was ranked the nation’s best by both FloWrestling.com and InterMatWrestling.com.
In the classroom, NC State had its first-ever ACC Wrestling Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2016, Nick Gwiazdowski. The Pack has also had nine Academic All-America selections as well as nine placed on the All-ACC Academic Team over the last three years.
The 2015-16 season will go down as one of the best in school history. NC State won the 2016 ACC Championship, the first at NC State since 2007. Four individuals were crowned conference champions, and six made it to the finals overall.
Following the conference title, the Pack tied a school record with eight NCAA Qualifiers, including six seeded grapplers and for the first time ever; four were seeded fifth or better. As a team, NC State finished in 11th place at the NCAA Championships, the best finish since a school-best seventh in 1993. The Pack tied the school record with three All-Americans in 2016: Tommy Gantt (5th - 157), Pete Renda (3rd - 184) and Nick Gwiazdowski (2nd - 285).
NC State finished the regular season ranked #2 in the final NWCA/USA Today Coaches Poll, the highest ranking in school history. The Pack went 23-1 in dual matches, setting a new single season school record for most wins. NC State also set a new school record with 21 consecutive wins to start the 2016 season, as the previous best was nine. Included in the dual wins were road victories at national powers Oklahoma State and Iowa - making NC State the first school ever to win at both in the same season.
Following his fourth season at NC State, Popolizio was named the 2016 National Coach of the Year by FloWrestling.com.
Redshirt-senior Nick Gwiazdowski was named the 2016 ACC Wrestler of the Year, the third consecutive season he has won the conference’s top award. He is only the second wrestler in ACC history to be named Wrestler of the Year three straight times. During his three-year career at NC State, Gwiazdowski won two NCAA titles (2014, 2015) and finished runner-up in 2016, in addition to winning three straight ACC heavyweight titles and finishing his NC State career a perfect 55-0 in duals.
In 2015, the Pack placed 16th at the NCAA Championships. NC State had a pair of All-Americans for the first season since 1993, as 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. He finished the season undefeated, going a perfect 35-0. 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.
In just his second season in 2014, Popolizio added to the Pack’s storied tradition with NC State’s sixth individual national champion. Gwiazdowski became NC State’s third heavyweight to win the NCAA title.
“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.”
Prior to coming to NC State, 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.
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. 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.