Virginia Tech had won eight consecutive dual meets coming into Friday night’s match at North Carolina. But when the Hokies stepped on the mat in Carmichael Arena, that momentum seemed to slip away.
No. 15 UNC won six of ten bouts to earn an 18-14 victory over the 11th-ranked Hokies. It was a night of missed opportunities and unpreparedness that led to Tech’s third dual loss of the season.
“They wanted to win more than we did. They were tougher than we were,” Virginia Tech head coach Tony Robie said. “They fought harder than we did. That’s the bottom line.”
Virginia Tech started off well, with Joey Prata winning a 2-0 decision over Joe Heilmann at 125 pounds. Prata used a second period escape and the riding time point to get the dual started on the right foot for Tech.
Korbin Myers got off to a hot start as well at 133 pounds, taking a 6-3 lead into the third period. That’s where things took a turn.
UNC’s Gary Wayne Harding scored two takedowns and a stalling point to tie the match at eight points apiece with 13 seconds left. He was able to get Myers on his back and score four near fall points as time expired to pick up a 12-8 decision for the Tar Heels.
The Hokies would drop the next three matches and go into the intermission trailing 12-3.
“Things kind of got away from us in some places and listen, they wrestled smart and they wrestled good and they took advantage of opportunities,” Robie said of UNC. “And they were ready. I’m not going to make any excuses. It can be momentum, it can be whatever you want to call it, but quite frankly, I just don’t think we were very tough tonight.”
The Hokies were able to make a comeback at the heavier weights, with Mekhi Lewis winning a 14-4 major decision at 165 pounds. David McFadden and Zack Zavatsky each won their matches as well, but Tech wasn’t able to finish strong.
Tom Sleigh lost a 6-4 decision at 197 pounds before Billy Miller lost a nail-biting 3-2 decision at 285 pounds.
All of the matches that the Hokies lost were close and could have gone either way. There were times where the Hokies weren’t able to close out a match they were leading, and there were times when the wrestlers were unable to get any offense going against the Tar Heels.
To Robie, dropping the tight matches shows how unprepared his team was.
“There [were] seven very close matches. We lost six of them,” Robie said. “That’s the way it goes and credit to North Carolina. They were ready, we weren’t ready. That’s 100 percent on me. We’ve got to learn from this. We’ve got to get better from this.”
While the loss is tough and the Hokies definitely have things to work on going forward, there were a few bright spots. Prata was able to win his match, improving to 3-4 in dual meets and 2-0 in ACC competition. McFadden and Zavatsky continued their impressive seasons, with Zavatsky winning a 12-4 major decision thanks to a third period hands to the face call. The major decision from Lewis at 165 pounds adds to a stand out season from the redshirt freshman.
“I expect him to go out there and get bonus points tonight,” Robie said about Lewis. “He’s that good. He should be able to bonus point 90 percent of the guys in the country.”
The loss drops the Hokies to 8-3 on the season and 2-1 in ACC duals. They were previously tied with UNC and NC State for first place in the ACC.
Going forward, Tech has a tough slate. The Hokies will host Cornell and Virginia next weekend before taking on NC State on Feb. 22.
Robie has spoken all season about how his team has room to improve, and tonight’s dual proves his point.
“You’ve got to learn from it, you’ve got to hold yourself accountable for it,” Robie said. “You’ve got to recognize what the problem was tonight. That’s the only way it’s going to change. We’ve got some guys that need to make some changes.”
Tech will have the week off before next week’s matches, but you can bet in that time the Hokies will be working hard to get ready for some tough opponents and making sure they are prepared to finish the season strong.
“We definitely have a lot of work to do. We definitely got exposed,” Robie said. “We’ve got to get better from this. That’s the bottom line.”