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Virginia wrestling keeps it close in split duals against Gardner-Webb, George Mason

The Cavaliers faced mixed results in their most recent head-to-head battles

<p>The Cavaliers surmounted an early deficit to take down Gardner-Webb Saturday</p>

The Cavaliers surmounted an early deficit to take down Gardner-Webb Saturday

After a tumultuous Midlands Invitational that saw the team riddled with sickness, injuries and other unforeseen circumstances, Virginia wrestling returned Saturday at the Arms Duals in Richmond. The Cavaliers (4-1, 0-0 ACC) were pitted head-to-head against Gardner-Webb (2-3, 0-0 Big South) and George Mason (8-4, 1-1 Atlantic 10), and with momentum at a low after the unluckiest tournament Virginia has had all year, the team needed wins to regain momentum. 

Unfortunately, the Cavaliers did not appear to be on track for victories early on. The Runnin’ Bulldogs jumped out to a 15-0 lead after four early wins. This included a pin of junior Marlon Yarbrough II, who is one of just three currently-ranked Cavalier wrestlers. 

However, the strength of this Virginia team has consistently been the middle weight classes, and it showed Saturday. Coming off of a great last performance, sophomore Nick Sanko won by major decision to cut the lead to 15-4 and spark a comeback for the Cavaliers. Then, both sophomore Mason Stefanelli and graduate student Justin McCoy won by technical fall to cut the deficit down to one point — Stefanelli’s win was huge for the sophomore, who tends to wrestle down in the 149-lbs class but went up to 165-lbs for this match. 

After senior Jha’Quan Anderson — Gardner-Webb’s only ranked wrestler — won by major decision to give The Runnin’ Bulldogs another five-point lead, it was do-or-die time for Virginia. 

Two matches remained, and the Cavaliers would need wins in both to win the dual. Junior Colden Dorfman secured the first, winning by a 6-4 decision over Runnin’ Bulldog sophomore Josh McCutchen to cut the lead to two. Then, in the final match, junior Ryan Catka won by technical fall to give Virginia the five points they needed to cap off their comeback and secure a gutsy 22-19 win.

This match was both a sign of resilience and a scare for the Cavaliers. In an interview after the match, Coach Steve Garland was not entirely happy about his squad’s comeback effort. 

“I didn’t think we wrestled well in the first match and found a way to win,” Garland said. “Attitude-wise, we just weren’t awake and then we found that in the second half of the dual.”

Nonetheless, Virginia had some momentum heading into their second dual of the day and it showed early. The Cavaliers jumped out to a 10-0 lead behind wins from sophomores Kyle Montaperto and Keyveon Roller, as well as junior Kyren Butler. Butler was not only able to win by major decision, but he did it against one of the Patriots’ three ranked wrestlers, that being sophomore Nathan Higley. 

But Virginia’s sizable lead would be short-lived. George Mason rattled off three consecutive wins by decision in the middle weight classes, cutting the Virginia lead to just one point. Once again, McCoy secured a huge victory via major decision to extend the Cavalier’s lead to five points. 

However, the win did little to stop a Patriot comeback. In what was essentially a reverse of their match against Gardner-Webb, the Cavaliers would give up their lead right at the end. George Mason sophomore Malachi DuVall pinned Cavalier sophomore Griffin Gammell to put the Patriots up 15-14. This lead was extended to 18-14 after Dorfman lost to George Mason senior Tyler Kocak. 

With just one match to go, Virginia had to win by major decision to tie, or by technical fall or pin to win. Unfortunately, Catka was unable to come through with the final push the Cavalier’s needed as he won by a standard decision. The Cavaliers lost the dual 18-17. 

Although Virginia put up a very solid performance, in college wrestling that does not guarantee a win.

“We came out great and [the result] was the exact opposite,” Garland said. “It was completely different from the first dual of the day.”

Even though Virginia picked up their first loss of the season, the team learned valuable information about themselves that will help them for the duration of the season. The Cavaliers found that their resilience from the Midlands Invitational was no fluke and that their roster can beat ranked wrestlers. Regardless of the result, this meet should be considered a relative success for Virginia. 

The Cavaliers continue their season Friday with the Virginia Duals in Hampton, Va. Virginia will face tough opponents in Wisconsin, Kent State, No. 11 South Dakota State and No. 19 Oklahoma as their last test before ACC play begins Jan. 26. 


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