Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech wrestling
It was a late start to the season for Virginia Tech wrestling. The Hokies, however, have not missed a beat.
Fourth-year head coach Tony Robie and company have gotten off to a fantastic 5-0 start. They’re now 1-0 in the ACC after a too close for comfort 19-15 dual meet win over the rival Virginia Cavaliers on Friday.
The eighth-ranked Hokies hadn’t really had a competitive match until the rivalry match with the Cavaliers; Virginia Tech took down Campbell, 28-6 at home on Jan. 2. Prior to that, the Hokies swept a trifecta at West Virginia, blowing out Ohio, Kent State, and the hometown Mountaineers.
Not Yet Satisfied
While Robie was not as pleased about some specific performances in the win over Virginia, he’ll certainly take the start the Hokies have gotten off to. Virginia Tech had been off for two weeks prior to this match.
The Hokies’ dual meet against North Carolina was postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the Tar Heels’ program. But for Virginia Tech, it was “business as usual” during the off weeks.
“We were disappointed last week. We wanted to wrestle,” the fourth-year head man stated following the slim victory over the Cavaliers. “That’s just the world we live in right now though. You got to kind of expect that.”
As far as the Hokies’ most recent match against Virginia, Robie expressed the desire for his team to ultimately wrestle better. He said that he “felt good about eight out of 10 matches”, but that the other two, without specifically stating which ones, he was “not happy at all.”
“Those two matches — I just wasn’t happy with the effort,” Robie said. “I wasn’t happy with how we represented ourselves.”
Robie commended true freshman Andy Smith for his 10-3 loss to No. 3 Jay Aiello, saying that he “went hard; there’s no shame in that.”
“We came away with the W(in),” Robie said. “But, I can’t say anybody’s jumping up and down about the way we performed.”
Early Bright Stars
One of the things that Robie seemed extremely pleased with was the way his lighter weights continue to wrestle — particularly redshirt freshman and No. 10 Sam Latona at 125 pounds, and No. 8 Korbin Myers at 133 pounds.
Latona (5-0) looks absolutely stellar so far this season. He’s already earned ACC Wrestler of the Week honors, and is looked at as one of the rising stars in his weight class.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Latona. “But it’s not important until you actually do something.
“I have big goals and we still have the (ACC Championships) and (NCAA Championships) coming up,” he continued. “I haven’t really done much yet, so it doesn’t matter.”
His stats would beg to differ, however. He started the match off with a bang with a technical fall, 18-3, against Sam Book of Virginia to put the Hokies up 5-0 for the team score.
Latona credited his teammates for helping him block out the noise and the high praise he has since gotten early in his college career.
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Myers (4-0), “had the best performance tonight”, according to Robie. The eighth-ranked wrestler in the land at 133 pounds demolished No. 12 Louie Hayes 12-1 in a major decision. It was the most-hyped match entering the evening.
Myers credited his mentality to his success Friday night, saying that it “made a huge difference” and “made (him) more confident.”
“If I wrestle like that, I can beat anyone in the country,” the graduate student from Pennsylvania said.
That’s a mindset the coaching staff will be sure to like in Blacksburg.
When asked if fans had seen the best of Korbin Myers yet, he seems to believe the best is yet to come.
“Man, I really don’t think so,” Myers said. “Even looking at my match, there were a couple of positions where I could’ve scored from….Just little things like that that, I know I can improve on, can even widen that gap a little more.”
Myers then said he can’t afford to dwell on a win, and that getting complacent can allow other guys to catch up.
No. 2 Hunter Bolen (4-0), out of nearby wrestling powerhouse Christiansburg High School, has had a great start to the season as well at 184 pounds.
Defending a Title
Headlining the Hokies is defending national champion Mekhi Lewis.
Lewis (5-0) became the school’s first national champion, winning the 165-pound weight class as the No. 8 seed as a true freshman two seasons ago.
He still is the defending champion after the NCAA Championships were canceled last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Lewis, now No. 1 in the country at 165, took the year off anyway with an Olympic redshirt. Lewis spent the year training for future seasons.
The redshirt sophomore said that the redshirt year was able to help him better understand what to do “on and off the mat.”
“It really just helped me better prepare for the season,” the New Jersey native stated.
The one thing about being the top-ranked wrestler though, is the target that comes with it.
Lewis said it doesn’t affect his mentality when wrestling, but that there “definitely is pressure”.
“I just need to try to focus on myself and the things I need to do for my team,” Lewis said.
He added that it’s “especially exciting” to get a win over rival Virginia. That makes it nine straight for the Hokies against the ‘Hoos and 17 out of 18 in a lopsided series that Virginia Tech has dominated over the last few years.
Robie and the Hokies will definitely want to clean up some things at a couple of weight classes before their upcoming matches this weekend. Nevertheless, it’s been a great start for the Hokies, who look like a team that could potentially finish in the top 5.
They’ll travel to Tobacco Road next. Virginia Tech will face Duke in Durham on Friday night, and North Carolina in Chapel Hill for that rescheduled match-up on Saturday afternoon.
No time has yet been set for Friday’s match. Saturday’s contest with the Tar Heels begins at 3 p.m. ET on a network to be named. These will likely be able to be seen on the ACC Network or ACC Network Extra.