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Virginia wrestling overcomes adversity at the Midlands Championships

Two Cavaliers placed in the competitive multi-day event

<p>Junior Marlon Yarbrough II and graduate student Justin McCoy each placed at the Midland Invitational last weekend</p>

Junior Marlon Yarbrough II and graduate student Justin McCoy each placed at the Midland Invitational last weekend

After a long break for finals, Virginia wrestling closed out 2023 at the Midlands Championships in Hoffman Estates, Ill. Friday and Saturday. The event, which featured wrestlers from over 30 Division I wrestling programs, had a ton of talent in every weight group and was a true test of the Cavaliers’ (3-0, 0-0 ACC) strength. 

This was Virginia’s third appearance in the invitational, which is in its 59th year. With three wrestlers having placed in both of the program’s previous appearances in the Midlands Championships, the bar was set high for the Cavaliers to match their past success. 

Before day one even started, it looked like Virginia was not on track to meet that bar. The Cavaliers saw their hopes of matching their previous totals dwindle as sophomores Griffin Gammell and Kyle Montaperto as well as graduate Education student Krystian Kinsey had to withdraw due to an illness that spread through the team. All three of those wrestlers had winning records on the season, and their illness knocked the Cavaliers out of three weight classes before the first round kicked off. 

A majority of the matches took place on day one of the tournament, as all weight groups wrestled through the quarterfinals. It was the usual suspects for Virginia who were able to succeed. Seventh-ranked 174-lbs wrestler and graduate student Justin McCoy went 4-0 on the day and advanced to the semifinals on day two with ease. McCoy is the only member of the Cavaliers to place in both the 2022 and 2023 Midlands Championships, as the graduate student placed fifth last year.

20th ranked 133-lbs wrestler and junior Marlon Yarbrough II was also able to make a deep run, making the quarterfinals before falling to Michigan redshirt junior Dylan Ragusin. Yarbrough was given an invitation to the wrestlebacks on day two, however, which kept his tournament run alive. Sophomore Nick Sanko also received an invitation for day two, going 4-0 in the 157-lbs class after suffering an early loss.

Some other notable performances came from juniors Erik Roggie and Ryan Catka. Both wrestlers were able to overcome early losses to make the consolation quarterfinals, ending their tournaments one match away from making day two. Even more impressive was that Roggie was able to defeat the 13th ranked wrestler of the 149-lbs class during his run, which displayed that he is clearly better than his previous 3-4 record would indicate.

Despite these successes, there was a lot of disappointment for Virginia heading out of day one. Three of the Cavaliers’ five ranked wrestlers were not able to make the quarterfinals or had to medically forfeit. In addition, several of the Cavaliers who were invited to day two, such as McCoy and Yarbrough, were battling injuries and not guaranteed to be medically ready to compete in the wrestlebacks and semifinals. 

As day two came along, McCoy and Yarbrough were determined to go out and wrestle through the pain. However, they didn’t see much success. McCoy dropped his semifinal match to 13th ranked wrestler and Harvard senior Philip Conigliaro and then medically forfeited from the fifth-place match. Nonetheless, the graduate student still managed to finish on the 174-lbs podium. 

The story was similar for Yarbrough. Although he won his first match by injury default, Yarbrough was defeated in his second match and medically forfeited the seventh place match, giving him 8th place and a spot on the 133-lbs class podium. Sanko, the Cavaliers’ only healthy wrestler on day two, also lost his opening match of wrestlebacks and therefore failed to place on the 157-lbs class podium. 

While Virginia did not match its success from previous Midlands Championships, what began as a potential nightmare weekend for the Cavaliers ended with two placements. That’s more of a testament to the team’s depth than it is a sign that they are weaker than in previous years. The illness that spread through the Virginia locker room was incredibly detrimental, but it was the first of many challenges the Cavaliers faced that proved they were a resilient team who can battle through any struggle. 

Still, the injuries of McCoy and Yarbrough will need to be resolved before conference play begins Jan. 26 if Virginia wants any chance to compete in the ACC. 

The Cavaliers return to head-to-head matches Jan. 6 when they compete in Richmond at the Arms Duals. The event will be one of Virginia’s last non-conference showdowns, and they will be competing against George Mason and Gardner Webb. 


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