On the final night of dual meet wrestling in Blacksburg for the 2021-22 season, the No. 7 Virginia Tech Hokies defeated the No. 21 North Carolina Tar Heels, 23-11, to record three straight conference wins.
It proved to be a bittersweet night for the program as three Hokie wrestlers were hitting the mat one last time in Cassell Coliseum.
Before the event got underway, seniors No. 5 Korbin Myers (133), No. 10 Hunter Bolen (184) and No. 14 Nathan Traxler (285/Heavyweight) were met by head coach Tony Robie at center mat and received the recognition for their contributions to the program; Jake Hart (157) was also recognized prior to the start of the dual meet, but he did not compete in Friday’s event.
In the 133 division, Myers, who did not compete last week due to a forfeit by Duke, was up against a tall task of No. 21 Joe Heilmann.
But once the bout got underway, it was easy work for Myers as he held a 5-0 lead through the first two periods and then he coasted his way to a 8-2 decision victory.
Bolen wasn’t as fortunate in his matchup against No. 18 Gavin Kane.
The former Christiansburg HS standout and the Tar Heel sophomore delivered a competitive and grueling 184 bout which saw the opening period come to a 0-0 end with no advantage in the riding time.
Kane picked up the match’s first point with an escape in the second period where Bolen then escaped early in the third period to bring us to a 1-1 tie.
As it remained at a stalemate after three periods, the bout was heading to sudden victory, the Hokies’ first at home during conference play.
It didn’t last long though - in the opening seconds, Kane recorded the match’s first takedown and came away with a 3-1 decision victory.
To close out the night, Traxler faced Brandon Whitman in the 285/Heavyweight class.
Similar to the 184 bout, the two wrestlers had nothing to show for separation after the opening period. But Traxler flipped that script when he swept the leg of Whitman for the match’s first takedown.
Although sitting in a comfortable position for the majority of the clash, the talented transfer sealed the 5-1 decision victory with late takedown in the final period.
To get the dual meet started overall, No. 20 Sam Latona had the opportunity to give the Hokies an early advantage as he faced Spencer Moore.
The Alabaster, Ala. native set the tempo early with two takedowns in the opening period, setting him up with a 4-1 advantage. That’s the closest Moore would get for the remainder of the bout as Latona pulled out the 10-5 decision victory.
The headliner of the night came at the 174 division, where No. 3 Mekhi Lewis faced a Top 10 foe in No. 9 Clay Laud.
The Bound Brook, N.J., native got a nice start to the match with a first period takedown, and then he took over the bout in the second period by bringing the riding time up to 2:22.
Laud wasn’t backing away from the test as he took down Lewis for two big points, but Lewis received a takedown a mere seconds later to help him en route to a 6-2 decision victory.
The 149 division also provided Hokie Nation with an exciting contest as No. 5 Bryce Andonian went up against No. 17 Zach Sherman.
There was not a single dull moment in this bout as Andonian got seven points in the opening period with a takedown which later turned into a four-point near fall.
Quickly in a deficit, Sherman had to operate fast, and he did well by bringing the bout to a three-point differential, but a quick escape gave Andonian breathing room in the score.
Then in the final period, the Kirtland, Ohio native recorded another four-point near fall following a takedown to bring the match to a 16-6 major decision victory.
In the 197 division, No. 31 Dakota Howard had an opportunity to unofficially wrap up the dual meet for the Hokies as he faced Mark Chaid.
The Cleveland, Ohio native came out lighting fast on the mat with a pair of takedowns in the opening period to give the early 4-1 edge. For the second period, Howard drew up a similar game plan as he recorded another two takedowns.
Heading into the final period with a 8-4 lead, Howard did not take the foot off the throttle and steamrolled his way to a 13-5 major decision victory. Once the result was made official, Howard ran over to some faithful members of Hokie Nation which sent the crowd into a frenzy.
One bout that may not have been seen as a highly anticipated match, Clayton Ulrey squared off against Isaias Estrada, which turned out to be another important victory for the Hokies in the 165 division.
The sophomore wrestler made his mark in the opening period with a pair of takedowns to make it a 4-1 score after three minutes of wrestling.
In the final periods, no points were recorded to either side despite Estrada dominating the riding time, which gave him a point at the very end, but not enough as the bout came a 4-2 decision victory in favor of Ulrey.
Despite an overall impressive showing from the Virginia Tech wrestlers, some of North Carolina’s top wrestlers made some statement results on Friday as well.
In the 157 division, No. 5 Austin O’Connor of North Carolina controlled the entire bout against No. 21 Connor Brady of Virginia Tech, with the match ending in a 25-10 technical fall victory.
After a tightly contested first period, O’Connor was just the better conditioned wrestler and consistently applied the pressure on Brady with takedown after takedown in the final two periods.
Meanwhile in the 141 division, No. 9 Kizhan Clarke provided the crowd its first competitive bout of the night against Virginia Tech’s No. 22 Collin Gerardi.
Points were hard to come by in the opening two periods as the wrestlers sat deadlock at two points apiece. But it was Clarke who took over the mat in the final period with a pair of takedowns to give what was North Carolina’s first bout victory of the night, a 6-2 decision victory.
Up next for Virginia Tech Wrestling, is a two bout road trip against two ACC schools. On Friday, Feb. 18th, the Hokies will close out conference play against Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. before making a quick turnaround two days later to Raleigh, N.C. to go against No. 3 N.C. State for a non-conference dual meet.