Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
Over the past two months, Joey Prata has been one of the biggest surprises in ACC wrestling going from afterthought to feared contender at 125. However, the fact that Prata is even in the starting lineup wasn't in the cards at the beginning season and creates a positiove, unexpected competition for Virginia Tech.
With Collin Gerardi impressing during his redshirt season, Korbin Myers and Virginia Tech decided that Myers should move to 125, opening the door at 133 for Gerardi to jump into the lineup. The move made lots of sense with Gerardi being then (and now still) one of the most promising freshmen 133ers in the country while Myers immediately upgraded Tech at 125 in a significant way, giving the Hokies their first ranked 125 wrestler since Joey Dance.
However, Myers suffered an injury that meant the senior would at least be out for the first half of the season with the hope that he could return once the calendar turned to the new year. In the meantime, Virginia Tech turned to Joey Prata to fill in for the interim with Myers being prepped to return and provide a spring upgrade.
Prata had starting experience earning that job last season at 125, but Prata had been a weak point in Virginia Tech's lineup with expectations not being high. However, Prata has not only exceeded expectations, but he's going to likely force Tony Robie to make some tough decision on what to do at 125 and 133 once Korbin Myers is able to return.
Joey Prata started out the season with three-straight impressive wins in dual meets including a 2-0 victory over now 11th-ranked Michael DeAugustino followed by a win over Ohio State's starting 125er, Malik Heinselman 5-2 that proved decisive in Tech's stunning upset of the Buckeyes. At the time, his win over Heinselman looked like an upset but just over a month later, it's clear that was a statement by Prata that his time to shine has come in Blacksburg.
Prata was solid at the Navy Classic going 3-2 with his only two losses coming to wrestlers ranked ahead of his current #14 ranking by Intermat. However, Prata stepped up his game up two weeks later at the most prestigious in-season tournament in the country, the Cliff Keen Invitational.
Prata put on a show in Vegas going 6-2 in the tournament on his way to a 4th place at 125 with his two losses coming to opponents ranked above him. Additionally, Prata picked up a victory over #15 Alex Mackall of Iowa State along with a second victory over Heinselman and a win over Minnesota's starter at 125, Patrick McKee.
That's given Joey Prata an overall record of 12-4 with a solid group of wins and not a single loss to a wrestler ranked below him or by major decision or worse. Combine that with Prata being ranked 14th in the country and that has raised some questions for Virginia Tech as to whether to stick with Prata and move Myers back to 133 when he returns, or go with the Myers-Collin Gerardi combination.
The next few weeks should provide more answers as both Prata and Gerardi will have pressure to perform, but the fact that this is even a question is a credit to Joey Prata who has taken his game to the next level and emerged as the ACC's second best 125er. However, Gerardi has shown plenty of promise in his own right, but his youth may push the Hokies to go with the more experienced duo this year.
Regardless, the biggest positive for the Hokies has to be the fact that Virginia Tech's future at 125 is quite good beyond just this season with Prata and Gerardi poised to be the starting duo next season.
Prata seemed on the way out with Korbin Myers moving down to 125 and young Sam Latona arriving ready to take a redshirt and develop as the future at 125. While Latona still is the future, that future will be delayed because of the breakout season for Joey Prata that has him consistently competing with the best in the country.