After a strong performance at the Southeast Invitational in which eight wrestlers placed against stiff competition, Virginia wrestling had its sights set on the 2023 Mountaineer Invitational. The invitational — which was hosted by Appalachian State in Boone N.C. — featured wrestlers from the Cavaliers (0-0, 0-0 ACC), the Mountaineers (0-1, 0-0 SBC), Air Force, Gardner-Webb and Presbyterian. With the level of competition at a slightly lower standard than in their previous large meet, Virginia put forth a far stronger showing.
In the Open division, which was the weaker of the two in the meet and also included other schools such as Davidson and Lander, the Cavaliers put forth two champions. Although senior Evan Buchanan wrestled unattached in the 133-lbs weight class, he was still able to take care of business as the first member of the team to compete. Buchanan won his three matches by a combined score of 28-7, and took down junior Kaden Kuenzi of the Bearcats (1-0, 1-0 Peach Belt) in the final to secure a championship for himself.
Freshman Michael Murphy also made a strong showing in the Open division for Virginia. Murphy dominated his first two matches of the 165-lbs class by scores of 17-2 and 14-5 before falling to Appalachian State redshirt freshman Nicholas Grizales. However, he would rally back and win two matches in the consolation bracket to secure a third place finish. Lastly, sophomore Griffin Gammell was able to secure another championship for the Cavaliers when he took down all three of his opponents in the 184-lbs weight class.
In the Invitational division, which the majority of the Virginia squad competed in, the Cavaliers picked up right where they left off with more strong performances. Building on his own momentum from a meet prior, sophomore Kyle Montaperto dominated in his first match of the 125-lbs class before narrowly beating the Runnin’ Bulldogs (0-0, 0-0 Big South) graduate student Drew West 11-9. Montaperto did fall in the championship 16-7 to Falcon (2-0, 0-0 Mountain West) sophomore and Intermat’s 26th ranked 125-lbs wrestler Tucker Owens, but nonetheless started the day off right for Virginia in the Invitational division.
Moving up a class, the Cavaliers in the 133-lbs class were able to redeem themselves after a subpar showing in Roanoke. Freshman Gable Porter was able to win his first match before falling in the semifinals to Appalachian State redshirt sophomore and 19th-ranked class wrestler Ethan Oakley 10-9. Undeterred, Porter dominated the third place match and secured placement with a 9-1 victory. Even more impressive was junior Marlon Yarbrough II, who was able to win the 133-lbs class championship. Yarbrough got a bye in the quarterfinal, and then ran away with the title in two matches that he won by over five points each. With three placements in just two weight classes, Virginia was rolling into the middle weight classes. Fortunately for them, the Cavaliers’ momentum would not slow down any time soon.
Sophomore and Intermat’s 21st ranked 141-lbs class wrestler Jack Gioffre absolutely dominated his class, winning all three of his matches by seven or more points. His twin brother and 31st ranked 149-lbs class wrestler Michael Gioffre continued upon this tide of victories by winning two matches of his own before narrowly falling 5-4 to Mountaineer redshirt senior and 25th ranked class wrestler Cody Bond. Also of note in this class was junior Erik Roggie, who was able to secure a fourth place finish with his 2-2 record on the day.
In the 157-lbs class, the strength of the Cavaliers continued to be shown as both junior Gavin Cagle and senior Dylan Cedeno were able to place at fourth and second, respectively. However, the thorn in both of their sides was Appalachian State junior and 20th-ranked Tommy Askey, who beat both members of the Virginia squad by scores of 13-1 and 4-2.
Despite putting up weaker showings in the opening meet, the heavier weight classes did not disappoint for the Cavaliers. Virginia graduate student and 9th-ranked Justin McCoy left no doubt that he would win the 174-lbs class, as he defeated both of his opponents by seven or more points to secure another championship for the Cavaliers. In the 197-lbs class junior Colden Dorfman had a very similar performance as he too won the class title by way of three large victories. Fifth-year Ethan Weatherspoon also managed to secure a third place finish in the 197-lbs class via a three match win streak in the consolation bracket to avenge an early loss.
While the Cavaliers have yet to face another team head-to-head yet, their improvement and success at their two large meets bring promise. After all, with matchups slated against two of the top five ranked teams in college wrestling — N.C. State and Virginia Tech — Virginia will need all the momentum it can muster to prove they can fight with the big dogs. Experience will dictate results as the season progresses. Fans should monitor Yarbrough who steamrolled through competition in the Mountaineer Invitational as his opponents get tougher. Additionally, McCoy should continue to be relied upon as a seasoned veteran and dominant leader on the mat as he helps prepare newcomers for the difficult matches ahead.
The Cavaliers start head-to-head matches Nov. 17 when they travel to Albany N.Y., for the Journeyman Duals. In the competition, they will compete with both Long Island and Buffalo as a team.