The first two duals of the season were tough for the Virginia Tech wrestling team. The Hokies lost to Missouri and Northwestern during a weekend trip to the Midwest in November. While there were some struggles all around, some of the biggest losses came in weight classes where the team was missing some key competitors.
“We had two starters out of our lineup that weekend with [David] McFadden and Billy Miller,” head coach Tony Robie said. “I still feel like we gave two matches away. We could very easily split five and five to be quite honest with you.”
Both of those starters were out for the beginning of the season for different reasons, but on Friday night against Princeton, Hokie nation got what it had been waiting for.
McFadden and Miller made their debuts against Princeton last weekend, with each picking up a victory in the Hokies’ win over the Tigers.
“It’s important. In our sport when you have guys out it makes a big difference,” Robie said about having his starters back. “There’s just no two ways around that, so for us I think it helped our energy too.”
McFadden had missed the first two duals against Missouri and Northwestern while he was competing in the U23 World Championships in Romania. He went 2-1 in that tournament, his loss coming in the quarterfinals of the 79-kilogram weight class.
Back in the U.S., Cody Hughes was wrestling in McFadden’s place against some of the top teams in the country. Hughes faced ranked opponents in both matches and was unable to pick up a win.
McFadden returned home from Romania in time for the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, but an injury kept him from competing. Robie said that he had suffered an injury prior to the World Championships and had tweaked it again in practice, keeping him sidelined during what is arguably the toughest in-season tournament.
While McFadden wasn’t able to compete in the tournament, his presence was still beneficial to the team.
“Just having him with our team, he’s our team leader, there’s no question about that,” Robie said. “He’s our team captain. He brings great energy to the team and his wrestling and just in general I think having him around is a really positive thing for our guys both on and off the wrestling mat.”
The Hokies still put in a solid showing in Las Vegas, tying for 11th in the team score while freshman Mekhi Lewis placed second in his weight class. But for the first time in four years, Virginia Tech did not have an individual champion at the tournament.
After missing the first month of the season, both McFadden and Miller suited up for Tech when the Hokies hosted Princeton in Cassell Coliseum on Dec. 7.
McFadden, the No. 5 wrestler at 165 pounds, faced off against Travis Stefanik. McFadden had an injury scare in the first period and left the mat to undergo and evaluation, but returned shortly after. The junior from New Jersey scored a reversal and takedown to pick up a 5-0 decision with the riding time point.
After the match, Robie was relieved to have McFadden back to normal.
“David McFadden’s always a guy that people are excited to watch,” Robie said. “He gets his teammates excited, he’s a very likeable guy. So having David back in the lineup and with us I think was important to get him out on the mat.”
Miller on the other hand, was a little bit of a wild card.
The Hokies’ heavyweight, ranked No. 7 in the country despite not wrestling until Friday, picked up a major decision against Princeton. Miller had over four minutes of riding time against Kendall Elfstrom to earn his first win in a Virginia Tech singlet.
“Billy’s pretty good,” Robie said, adding that he didn’t know what to expect. “It’s hard to say because I haven’t really watched him compete a lot. I watched him occasionally when he was at Edinboro, but for us, this is the first time he’s been in a Virginia Tech singlet.”
Miller’s major decision gave Tech some bonus points in the team score, which helped lead the Hokies to a 24-16 win over the Tigers.
“He wrestled well, wrestled a guy that he was significantly bigger than and had an advantage on, but he did a good job,” Robie said. “He did a good job and he went out and he kept trying to score points and he kept the pressure on.”
The match paid off for Miller, who maintained his No. 7 ranking. He could face some tough tests in the near future as the Hokie compete in the Southern Scuffle on Jan. 1. Oklahoma State, Lehigh and LockHaven will be participating in the tournament, and each school has a heavyweight ranked in the top 10.
For now, though, Miller has his first win as a Hokie under his belt and can turn his attention to West Virginia next week.