Virginia Tech has built itself into a wrestling powerhouse over the past decade. That success has come in recent years largely due to the tremendous talent in the higher weight classes.
Tech has had an impressive set of wrestlers in the classes ranging from 165 to 285 pounds, and this season is no different. All five of the Hokies’ heavier grapplers are ranked in Intermat’s top 20. Four of them – Mekhi Lewis, David McFadden, Zack Zavatsky, and Tom Sleigh – are ranked in the top 10 of their class.
This weekend, some of them will get a real test.
Tech hosts Pittsburgh in Cassell Coliseum on Friday night, and the Panthers have been putting together an impressive campaign in the 2018-19 season so far.
Pitt is ranked No. 13 in the latest NWCA Coaches Poll, just one spot behind the No. 12 Hokies. The Panthers are 8-1 on the season, with their only loss coming last Saturday against No. 3 Oklahoma State. Pitt has four wrestlers ranked in the top 20 and will give Tech a challenge in Blacksburg.
Before the teams open up their ACC season on Friday night, let’s take a look at some of the key matches.
133: No. 14 Korbin Myers vs. No. 2 Micky Phillippi
Despite the hype around the upper weight classes, one of the biggest matches of the night will take place at 133 pounds. Korbin Myers has been solid for Virginia Tech since transferring from Edinboro over the offseason. The redshirt junior has gone 11-4 this season and has won four straight matches. He is 5-1 in dual meets, losing only to Missouri’s John Erneste. At the Virginia Duals during the weekend second weekend of January, he went 3-0, picking up two decisions and a major decision.
His competition on Friday? The No. 2 wrestler in the country.
Micky Phillippi is a redshirt freshman for the Panthers who is having a very impressive season. He just earned his second ACC Wrestler of the Week honor after defeating Oklahoma State’s Daton Fix last week. Fix was the No. 2 wrestler at the time and was undefeated on the season. A 3-1 decision by Phillippi knocked Fix down a spot while the Panthers’ star freshman climbed up to take his place.
Phillippi has only lost one match this season and has picked up wins over other ranked opponents such as Luke Pletcher (No. 6) and Cam Sykora (No. 16). Myers has the advantage of experience, but the young 133-pounder out of Derry, Pa. will be a tough match on Friday night.
184: No. 8 Zack Zavtsky vs. No. 12 Nino Bonaccorsi
Now for the upper weights. Virginia Tech senior Zack Zavatsky has been having himself quite a year so far. He’s 16-2 on the season and 7-0 in dual meets. He started his season by making the finals of the Hokie Open in Roanoke and has gone on a dominant run since then. He’s only lost two matches, and both were against Drew Foster of Northern Iowa at the Cliff Keen Invitational in December. When he takes the mat on Friday night in Cassell Coliseum, he’ll get a rematch against another opponent from that weekend.
Pitt’s Nino Bonaccorsi has only lost four matches this season. One of his losses came to Zavatsky at the CKLV. Bonaccorsi has gone 8-1 since that loss and you can bet he’ll be looking for revenge this weekend.
Zavatsky dominated the last match, scoring two takedowns, an escape and the riding time point. Bonaccorsi scored just two escape points the whole match as he lost 6-2. If Bonaccorsi wants a shot at beating Zavatsky, he’ll have to be aggressive against the two-time ACC champion.
285: No. 18 Billy Miller vs. No. 13 Demetrius Thomas
Out of the three matches I’ve highlighted, this one could be the biggest. Billy Miller joined the Hokies as a redshirt senior transferring from Edinboro. He was a three-time NCAA qualifier with the Scots, but has yet to reach the threshold of All-American. The Hokies’ heavyweight has had a solid season so far, but has been bouncing around the bottom of the rankings. A win over the No. 13 heavyweight in the country would give him a big boost on his season’s resume.
The guy he’ll have to beat is Pitt’s Demetrius Thomas, who has gone 20-3 on the season. He’s rolled through his competition, but recently suffered a loss to Oklahoma State’s Derek White.
One thing is for sure in this heavyweight match: Miller is going to have to come out ready to go if he wants to keep it competitive. Thomas has won nine major decisions this season. As if that’s not impressive enough, he’s also won six matches by fall. He’s a high-scoring wrestler, but Miller has had some pretty high scoring win himself.
In a dual that’s bound to be competitive, it’s not unreasonable that the heavyweight match could decide the team score. If it comes to that, expect Cassell to get loud and look forward to a great wrestling environment.
Tony Robie vs. Keith Gavin
While they won’t be doing any wrestling, the coaching matchup is an interesting one. Both coaches are in their second year at their programs, although Robie was an assistant at Tech long before that. Gavin is a 2008 graduate of Pittsburgh who was an assistant at Oklahoma and Virginia before taking the Panthers job in 2017.
Their first years on the job were quite different. While Robie was leading his team to a 14-2 overall record and an ACC Championship, Gavin’s team finished the season 4-11 and in last place at the ACC Championships.
Pitt has vastly improved this season as they’ve found themselves ranked in the top 15 and with serious contenders are some of the toughest weight classes. Gavin has done a good job of turning around his team, and Friday’s match could be a good test to see how far he’s brought them. He is just 2-3 in ACC matches while Robie went 4-1 in conference duals during his first season.
Pitt has also defeated two top 25 teams this season, No. 14 Northern Iowa and No. 23 North Dakota State. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, is still looking for its first top 25 win of the season. The Hokies opened the season with back-to-back losses against ranked teams Missouri and Northwestern. Since then, they’ve gone 5-0 in dual meets, dominating all of their opponents.
There’s a lot on the line this weekend and fans should be excited to see a top 15 matchup in Cassell Coliseum. The dual between Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh begins at 7:30 p.m. on Friday night.
Photo Credit: Virginia Tech Athletics
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