Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
In one of the most unique venues in college wrestling, Virginia Tech kept their fans entertained. After seizing the momentum on an early pin by Collin Gerardi, the Hokies never looked back and cruised to a 46-3 victory over Duke at the Moss Arts Center.
"It's awesome," head coach Tony Robie said of wrestling in Moss Arts Center. "In my opinion, it's the most unique venue in college wrestling, and I don't think it's really that close. Our fan support was fantastic tonight."
It helped that those fans had reason to cheer early an often. Even though wrestling isn't the usual event in the Moss Arts Center, the Hokies certainly put on an entertaining show.
After Duke forfeited the match at 125 pounds, Collin Gerardi earned a pin to give the Hokies an early 12-0 lead in the team score. Another Duke forfeit in the 141 pound class, Virginia Tech held a commanding 18-0 advantage.
"Momentum is important in dual meets," Robie said. "We've been on the other side of that. You can feel it, and I think it snowballed for us tonight in a positive way."
Even after six-point victories in each of the first three matches, the Hokies did not let off the gas. Bryce Andonian nearly had a pin of his own against Duke's Wade Unger at 149 pounds, but time had barely expired in the period.
Andonian still ended up earning a tech fall to give the Hokies a 23-0 lead. Robie emphasized that he is an important component not only in this meet, but also as the Hokies push towards the end of the season.
"At 149 [pounds] within the ACC, I think Bryce can do some really good things," Robie said. "He can score a lot of points for us, both in these last two dual meets and at the ACC Tournament."
Following that match, B.C. LaPrade put on one of the performances of the night for Virginia Tech. On an evening when he was honored for Senior Night, the redshirt-junior earned the Hokies' second pin of the meet with just one second left in the first period.
"It was pretty important, because I didn't want to go out there and lose," LaPrade said of his Senior Night performance. "That was pretty much my mindset was to just go out there and try to do my thing and destroy him."
Due to upcoming road dual meets against Top 10 teams in both NC State and Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech decided to rest some of their best wrestlers including David McFadden and Hunter Bolen. That allowed Caden Darber to get his first varsity start at 165 pounds.
Darber fell 3-1 to Benjamin Anderson despite a hard fought battle. Immediately afterwards, Tech's Cody Hughes earned an 8-4 decision over Mason Eaglin in the 174 pound class.
For Hughes, this meet meant a little more than most. The redshirt-senior spent four years as a backup before earning a starting role this year, so the win on Senior Night was extra special.
"It means a lot," Hughes said. "It's my last year probably ever wrestling in my life. I don't know what's going to happen after obviously, but it means a lot just going out, kind of being from a small town, and just getting to have this opportunity on a big stage now."
The Hokies went on to win the final three matches, all of them with bonus points. Cody Howard earned a tech fall at 184, Stan Smeltzer earned a major decision at 197, and John Borst finished with another tech fall at heavyweight.
All of this lead to a dominant 46-3 victory for the Hokies. For a team that was not as sharp as they may have hoped in two matches last weekend, it was an encouraging sign.
Now, Virginia Tech has some of their most important work ahead. They will travel to Raleigh to take on #3 NC State next Friday, followed by a trip to #10 Pittsburgh on Saturday, February 22nd. Tony Robie knows both of road environments will be difficult, but knows that his wrestlers came to Virginia Tech to compete with and defeat the best opponents.
"For me, I'm looking for the same mindset when we go down there," Robie said. "It's gonna be hostile, they'll have a lot of fans, and they're going to be rowdy. That's why guys come to Virginia Tech to wrestle is the kind of opportunity that we have next Friday night."