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Virginia wrestling starts off season with promising performance at Southeast Open

In their first performance, the team had eight Cavaliers place against stiff competition

<p>The Cavaliers hope to gain the same atmosphere they experienced last year at home when they come back to Charlottesville.</p>

The Cavaliers hope to gain the same atmosphere they experienced last year at home when they come back to Charlottesville.

Kicking off its 2023-24 campaign, Virginia wrestling competed at the Southeast Open Saturday. The open — sponsored by Virginia Tech and hosted by Roanoke College in Roanoke, Va. — featured 372 wrestlers from 22 different academic institutions. The competition was also fierce, as multiple ranked wrestling teams were present, including the No. 5 Hokies, No. 20 Oregon State and No. 25 North Carolina.

However, the Cavaliers (0-0, 0-0 ACC) were not without their own share of talented wrestlers and had four of their five Intermat-ranked wrestlers competing in the Open. Virginia also brought back a lot of its 2022-23 squad into this open as well as the No. 32 recruit freshman Steven Burrell Jr., who wrestled in the 197-lbs weight class of the Freshman/Sophomore division. Notably missing from the open was ninth-ranked graduate student Justin McCoy, who bouted mostly in the 165-lbs weight class last season. 

The Cavaliers had four representatives in the Freshman/Sophomore division of the open, each in a different weight class. All four wrestlers put up solid performances, and three ended up placing. While freshman Luke Roberts failed to place in the 149-lbs weight class, he totaled a record of 3-2 throughout the Open and made his way to the quarterfinal of his class while outscoring his opponents 32-22. 

Two weight classes above, freshman Michael Murphy overcame an early quarterfinal loss to UT-Chattanooga redshirt freshman Kamdyn Munro by winning three straight consolation matches to earn the fifth-place spot. In the 197-lbs weight class, Burrell Jr. was able to win three straight matches en route to the class final, but ended up losing 3-0 to Ohio sophomore Austin Starr and secured a second-place finish. Regardless, it was Virginia’s highest placement of the day and a truly great showing for the freshman. 

Sophomore Cooper Rudolph was able to win his first match in the 285-lbs class before falling in the semifinals to Maryland freshman Joey Schneck. He later would go on to win his third-place match and secure another placement for the Cavaliers. As a whole, this division of Virginia’s squad proved that the future of Cavalier wrestling is bright and that the team has talent in a variety of weight classes. 

18 members of the Virginia team went on to wrestle in the Open division of the tournament in eight different weight classes, each with varying results. It was also clear that the Cavaliers had some weight classes that were much stronger than others. 

Sophomore Kyle Montaperto dropped his first match but persevered and won two matches in dominant fashion in the 125-lbs consolation bracket, outscoring those opponents 15-2. That set a positive tone for Virginia, but the momentum would soon be squandered. In the 133-lbs weight class the Cavaliers had five wrestlers, more than any other class. Therefore, there were lofty hopes of a Virginia top placer considering the entire class only had 17 wrestlers. 

Unfortunately, only two out of the five wrestlers were able to win their first matches and none won back-to-back matches in the original field. The Cavaliers’ luck changed slightly in the consolation bracket, as freshman Gable Porter was able to win four straight matches and secure a fifth-place finish. However, two of those matches were against his own teammates — sophomore Keyveon Roller and junior Joe Haynes — so it is hard to claim this a true win for Virginia. 

Coming into the heavier weight classes, it was clear that the Cavaliers needed another top placement to regain momentum. Fortunately, they were able to find two within the next three weight classes. Sophomore Jack Gioffre — Intermat’s 21st ranked wrestler in the 141-lbs class — was able to win his first two matches before falling in the semifinals. Later, he rebounded in the third place game by defeating Campbell junior Chris Rivera 5-2. 

In the 157-lbs weight class, senior Dylan Cedeno secured third place in virtually the same way as Gioffre as he too won multiple matches before falling and rebounding in the third-place game. Virginia’s final placement came from sophomore Nick Hamilton, who is Intermat’s 24th-ranked 165-lbs class wrestler. Hamilton surprisingly dropped a match in the Round of 16, but was able to rally off four straight wins and earn a sixth-place finish. The Cavaliers did not place in either the 185- or the 197-lbs weight classes, and did not have a wrestler in the 285-lbs class. 

While this meet overall could be considered a success for Virginia — given the five total placements from its 18 open division competitors — it is concerning that two of their ranked wrestlers failed to place and that the heavier weight classes were unable to perform. However, the success of athletes like Rudolph in the heavier weight classes of the Freshman/Sophomore division show promise for the program as a whole. The Cavaliers are back in action Saturday at the Appalachian State Open in Boone, N.C.

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