By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — In a matter of seconds, University of Virginia wrestler George DiCamillo went from leading 2-0 to trailing 11-2 in the first period of his match against NC State’s Jamal Morris in the ACC tournament semifinals.
In the stands at John Paul Jones Arena, there was disbelief. DiCamillo, a 133-pounder from the Cleveland area, was Virginia’s only No. 1 seed in the six-team tournament, and never in his career had he rallied to win after falling so far behind.
But that’s what he did Sunday afternoon after receiving some advice from assistant coach Jordan Leen during a break in the match.
“He said, `It’s time to have some fun. This is what you train for, and don’t try and do it all at once,’ ” DiCamillo recalled. “I took that to heart, and it really meant the world to me. It really helped me come back in that match.”
By the end of the first period, DiCamillo had cut Morris’ lead to 11-5. By the end of the second, it was 11-7. In the third and final period, DiCamillo finally regained the lead, at 14-12, and he held off Morris for a 14-13 victory.
“That was the best comeback I’ve ever been a part of,” UVA head coach Steve Garland said. “It may be the best comeback in the history of our program. I don’t know how he did it.”
There was no such drama Sunday night in DiCamillo’s final match. After a scoreless first period, he pulled away for an 8-4 victory over Pittsburgh’s Dom Forys. That made DiCamillo, a redshirt junior, only the seventh ACC three-time champion in UVA history, and the first since Rocco Caponi (2007, ’08, ’09).
After the final, DiCamillo patiently answered questions from a reporter about the remarkable comeback against Morris. They weren’t the first ones DiCamillo fielded Sunday.
“Everyone was asking, `What was going through your mind? What were you thinking? How were you going to react to that?’ ” DiCamillo said. “The answer is, I didn’t change my game plan one bit, and that’s the honest-to-God’s truth.
“It’s about picking away at it little by little and wrestling the same. The point of the match is to score more points than the other guy, and if I continually worked to get the next point throughout the entire seven minutes — and that’s my mindset — then if I win, I win. If I don’t, I gave it everything I had.”
Garland said: “It’s just amazing, the resolve and the mental toughness and the heart George showed.
“Everybody associated with our program needed to see that. Parents too. That’s what it takes to be good at this level. You have to have that type of fortitude, that type of drive, that type of never-quit attitude. It’s so clichÃ©d, even hearing it out of my own mouth, but the reality is, good things happen when guys compete like that. That’s what we want for our program.”
A year after winning the ACC title in Pittsburgh, Virginia finished fourth at JPJ. NC State, with 90 points, was crowned champion, and Virginia Tech was second with 81.5. UNC was third with 56.5 points, and Virginia totaled 44.
DiCamillo, who improved his record to 27-3, was the only Cavalier to advance to the finals. Three Virginia wrestlers placed third: senior Nick Herrmann at 125 pounds, senior Chris Yankowich at 149, and redshirt sophomore Tyler Askey at 174.
Fifth-year seniors Zach Nye and Pat Gillen were fourth at 197 and 285 pounds, respectively.
“There were a couple heartbreaks [for Virginia at the ACC tourney],” Garland said, “but there’s a lot more good than bad.
“Make no mistake, we’re not satisfied at all with where we finished and how the season went, but we have a lot of things to build on, and that’s good coming out of here.”
Yankowich entered the ACC tourney with a modest record of 11-10, and Askey was 12-12. Each was seeded fifth in his weight class. That didn’t deter either of them Sunday.
Yankowich has “been waiting to get in the lineup and be on this stage his whole career,” Garland said. “He takes third. Askey takes third, and it was not just about that. It was how he competed. He’s a completely different guy than he was six months ago.
“Again, this is what we want from this program. We’ve got guys in the stands that’ll be wrestling for us next year. Seeing that, I hope they’re burning with desire and saying, `That’s going to be me, and that’s going to be me soon.’ ”
DiCamillo missed Virginia’s final two dual meets of the regular season with an injury, and his last match before his semifinal Sunday had been Feb. 6.
“That definitely didn’t help us,” Garland said, “but again, instead of making excuses, he goes out there and wins his third title.”
Three UVA wrestlers — DiCamillo, Herrmann and Nye — earned automatic bids to the NCAA championships, March 17-19 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Garland said he’s hopeful 157-pounder Andrew Atkinson, a redshirt sophomore whose record is 24-9, will receive an invitation too.
DiCamillo, who redshirted in 2013-14, has competed in the NCAA tournament twice. Each time he narrowly missed earning All-America honors. As a freshman in 2012-13, he went 3-2 at the NCAA meet. He posted a 2-2 record last year.
“I feel confident,” DiCamillo said. “Each time I’ve been to the national championships, I’ve taken something away from it, I’ve grown from it.
“So I’ve been there. I’ve felt that heat before. So I think that plays to my advantage.”