Virginia men’s wrestling competed at the ACC Championships at John Paul Jones Arena Sunday to begin the postseason. Although NC State picked up their fourth-straight ACC title, the Cavaliers had eight wrestlers secure automatic berths in the NCAA championship. At the end of the day, Virginia placed fifth behind NC State, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, and North Carolina.
The day started strong for Virginia as five Cavaliers advanced to the semifinals. The first to advance was senior Patrick McCormick at 125 pounds. McCormick defeated No. 5 seed freshman Spencer Moore 4-3 to advance to the semifinals.
At 157 pounds, the No. 2 seed fifth-year Jake Keating received a bye to the semifinal while senior Justin McCoy picked up a 10-2 major decision victory to advance at 165 pounds. At 197 pounds, No. 3 seed graduate student Jay Aiello won 16-0 for a technical victory in 6:51. Graduate student Quinn Miller reached the semifinals at heavyweight after a 3-1 victory against Duke junior Jonah Niesenbaum.
Alternatively, graduate students Brian Courtney, Micheal Battista and Jarod Verkleeren, sophomore Dylan Cedeno and junior Justin Phillips all lost and were sent to the consolation bracket for a chance at third place.
In the first round of the consolation bracket, Verkleeren and Phillips were knocked out at 149 and 174 pounds respectively. The two of them did not receive automatic bids for the NCAA tournament, but Coach Steve Garland hopes Verkleeren will receive an at-large invitation.
In the semifinals, the Cavaliers had four of their five wrestlers get sent to the consolation bracket. At 125 pounds, McCormick lost by major decision 16-5, and Keating was pinned at 157 pounds.
At 165 pounds, McCoy advanced to the final with a 1-0 victory against No. 2 seed graduate student Thomas Bullard. Aiello then lost 5-2 and Miller lost 4-3 to the No. 1 seeded wrestler, Pitt’s Nathan Traxler.
In the consolation bracket, Cedeno sparked Virginia’s confidence with a 5-0 victory against graduate student Kizhan Clarke who was the No. 2 seed for 141 pounds. The win advanced Cedeno to the third place match. The Cavaliers continued to find success with Keating, McCormick, Aiello and Miller all advancing to the third place match as well. Virginia would later go on a run to win all five of these third place matches.
McCormick began the streak for the Cavaliers with a 2-1 victory. Cedeno and Keating followed with 7-5 and 6-1 victories respectively. At 197 pounds, Aiello won with an 8-0 major decision victory against No. 4 seed sophomore Max Shaw.
Battista and Courtney would then pick up victories in their fifth place matches, giving them automatic bids to the NCAA tournament.
“I think the biggest thing is just making it there,” Aiello said. “Yeah, it would be great to win an ACC championship, but I still believe that I can be an NCAA champion.”
Miller then won 4-1 by decision in the heavyweight class to secure a third place finish.
“It was like back-to-back-to-back-to-back wins, over and over again,” McCoy said. “It was awesome to see that.”
After an impressive display for Cavalier wrestling, McCoy faced off against No. 1 seed senior Jake Wentzel from Pittsburgh. McCoy fell to Wentzel 7-0 by decision, but he will return for the NCAA Championship.
“I can’t wait for that opportunity,” McCoy said. “I had an opportunity last year and felt like I held back a little bit, so I’m looking forward to letting it all out there.”
The semifinal losses proved costly to the Cavaliers, giving them a fifth place finish overall.
“I just told my guys I’m so proud of them,” said Garland. “That was an impressive couple of rounds. There [were] a lot of good things happening there.”
The Cavaliers will return to action at the NCAA Championship on March 17 in Detroit, Mich.