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Virginia wrestling continues losing streak with close loss to North Carolina

The Cavaliers could not overcome an early deficit in the heavier weight classes

<p>The Cavaliers brought the score to within two points after facing an early 12-3 deficit, but it wasn't enough to topple the Tar Heels.</p>

The Cavaliers brought the score to within two points after facing an early 12-3 deficit, but it wasn't enough to topple the Tar Heels.

Virginia wrestling entered a Friday matchup — also the team’s Senior Night, held at Memorial Gymnasium — against North Carolina looking to bump itself back up to a .500 record, having fallen in its last two conference matchups. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers (7-5, 1-3 ACC), the Tar Heels (10-7, 2-2 ACC) proved to be the more prepared team as they defeated the hosts 18-16.

Virginia and North Carolina opened up their match with the 184-lbs weight class, in which Tar Heel freshman Sabino Portella won by major decision over senior Hudson Stewart. The North Carolina lead was extended to seven when one of the Tar Heels’ ranked wrestlers, junior Max Shaw, defeated graduate student Krystian Kinsey. 

In the heavyweight battle, junior Ryan Catka got a win in a 4-2 decision to bring Virginia within four, but that ground was lost with the Cavaliers losing by tech fall in the 125-lbs match. Now down 12-3 just four matches in, Virginia found itself in a tough position. The Cavaliers had been pushed back early and subsequently blown out of the water in recent meets against Virginia Tech and NC State, but this time, they chose to fight back after the slow start.

Junior Marlon Yarbrough II was up next for Virginia, and he did not disappoint. Yarbrough II secured a major decision and picked up a massive bonus point. Then, junior Kyren Butler took down North Carolina sophomore Jace Palmer to cut the deficit to just two points. Things were looking up for the Cavaliers, but they did not stay that way for too long. 

The 149-lbs class match was crucial since it was Virginia’s first chance to take the lead without bonus points since the day started. However, sophomore Michael Gioffre could not secure a win and was defeated in a 4-1 decision. To further the blow against the Cavaliers, sophomore Nick Sanko also lost in a close 8-5 decision in the next match. The deficit went from two to eight in the blink of an eye, and Virginia now had just two matches to make up an eight-point deficit. 

While this kind of deficit was possible to come back from, the Cavaliers would need to win both remaining matches and secure bonus points in at least one. Sophomore Nick Hamilton largely did his part to aid in the comeback, narrowly grabbing a win and making the deficit five. That left graduate student Justin McCoy in need of a pin for Virginia to pull out the victory. McCoy was able to get a win, but he could not get the bonus points needed to put Virginia even with the Tar Heels. In the end, the score was 18-16 in favor of North Carolina. 

After a resounding win against Duke Jan. 26 to open conference play, Virginia has now lost three consecutive ACC meets. The team’s previous two matches ended in defeats to the No. 13 Hokies and No. 8 Wolfpack by a combined score of 65-12, and while this one was closer, the Cavaliers will be disappointed to have suffered yet another home loss. 

Even though Virginia was not able to get a win on Senior Night, they constantly competed, even when down, and never called it quits. They had multiple wrestlers battling injuries, yet still split the overall matches 5-5. 

“The way you compete matters. That pillar of our program, to compete in such a way, that means something,” Coach Steve Garland said. 

While the box-score performance of this Cavaliers team has not been ideal in the last few weeks, they are certainly proving to be gritty and a team that not many will want to face in postseason play. The Cavaliers close out ACC competition Friday when they face off against Pittsburgh. The dual will start at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on ACCNX. 

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