Cornell’s first trip to Blacksburg shaped up to be a nail-biter inside Cassell Coliseum. The No. 9 Big Red won the match 17-16 on criteria, but the two teams split the dual five matches apiece.
Virginia Tech went down early, losing four of the first five matches. The Hokies were able to battle back and make the dual competitive though, even though they weren’t able to get the victory.
“Overall, I felt like it was a pretty good effort against a good team,” Virginia Tech head coach Tony Robie said. “I felt like going into the match we could win the dual meet. I had no doubt that we could win the dual meet, but that’s the way it goes.”
The match started off at 184 pounds, where No. 3 Zack Zavatsky faced off against No. 13 Max Dean. Zavatsky was coming off a major decision against UNC’s Chip Ness last weekend and had gained some momentum in the polls this week.
That momentum slipped away when he stepped on the mat. Dean worked the 2018 All-American for an 8-0 major decision. Zavatsky’s match was only his third loss of the season and the first time he has been held scoreless this year.
“There’s no excuse for Zavatsky to major. It’s disappointing,” Robie said. “He’s a fifth-year senior, a team captain, NCAA All-American. He’s beaten this guy twice. We need more out of him.”
Following the loss at 184, a fresh face stepped on the mat for Tech. Brooks Wilding, a redshirt junior, made his varsity debut for the Hokies in place of an injured Tom Sleigh. It was the first time that Wilding had wrestled since competing unattached during the 2015-16 season.
The Upper St. Clair, Pa. native had a tall task. He faced No. 7 Ben Honis in the 197-pound bout. Wilding put up a good fight, but ultimately lost the match 10-5.
“I’m glad he got an opportunity,” Robie said. “The one thing I knew Brooks would do is go out and compete hard and he did that. He didn’t come out on top, but I like his fight, I like his desire and that’s what makes him who he is.”
The Hokies notched their first win of the night at 285, where Billy Miller used a spin move to get in on a single-leg takedown in the third period and win the match 4-3. From there, it was another stretch of tough matches for the Hokies.
Tech lost every weight class from 125 to 141 as Cornell piled on the points and took a big lead. Some of the matches were close, but the end result was still a loss. Joey Prata and Mitch Moore both wrestled good matches against highly-ranked wrestlers, but neither were able to close the gap and earn a victory.
“Mitch Moore did a good job wrestling a defending national champ,” Robie said about Moore’s match against No. 1 Yianni Diakomihalis. “Didn’t take a back seat to him. Went out, went after him.”
The Hokies’ next win came at 149 pounds, where Ryan Blees won a 9-6 decision. He was followed by B.C. LaPrade, who manhandled his opponent on his way to a 10-5 victory. Even though he won his bout, the Hokies would’ve benefitted from a bigger margin of victory.
“Ryan Blees did a great job. B.C. LaPrade did a pretty good job,” Robie said. “I felt like he could’ve got a major for us too. Got a little complacent in the third period. We get a major there, we win the dual meet.”
With the Hokies trailing 16-9, two of their best wrestlers had yet to take the mat. No. 8 Mekhi Lewis dominated Andrew Berreyesa for a 14-5 major decision at 165 pounds. Berreyesa was only able to score via escape while Lewis scored takedown after takedown.
No. 7 David McFadden stepped up at 174 pounds to face No. 14 Brandon Womack with the match on the line and Cassell getting loud. McFadden led early, but Womack didn't go away easily. After battling back and forth, a third-period takedown sealed the 8-6 decision for McFadden.
Despite the Hokies' efforts, Cornell had still scored enough to win the dual on criteria and leave Blacksburg with a victory.
As he has all season, Robie saw some things that he knows his wrestlers have to work on moving forward.
“In some places we got scored on off our own shot a lot,” he said. “We did some technical things wrong. I guess I can live with that a little bit. I think we can fix those things.”
With tonight’s dual now behind them, the Hokies can look forward to Saturday night’s match against Virginia.
The Cavaliers come into Blacksburg ranked No. 22 in the country. The teams have already faced off once this season at the Virginia Duals, with Tech winning 37-5. Even though they might know what to expect, the Hokies still have a short time to get ready for a tough opponent.
“You’ve got to have a quick turnaround and be ready and be focused,” Robie said. “Hopefully some of these guys that lost matches, it lit a fire under them a little bit. The exciting thing is when you lose and you have a quick turnaround, you get another opportunity to feel a hell of a lot better about the way you competed and getting your hand raised.”
The Hokies will host UVA at 7 p.m. on Saturday in the Moss Arts Center on Virginia Tech’s campus. In order to be successful in that dual, they’ll have to forget about the loss they just endured and move on to the next.
“We’ve got to put that last match behind us. It doesn’t mean a thing,” Robie said. “We’ve got to go out there and we’ve got to fight hard and we’ve got to take it to them. I think if we do that we’ll be fine.”
Photo Credit: Virginia Tech Athletics