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Virginia wrestling loses fourth straight match on the road at Pittsburgh

The Cavaliers fell to 1-4 in conference play after losing 35-7 to the Panthers

<p>Junior Marlon Yarbrough II continued to shine for the Cavaliers Friday, picking up his 11th win of the season.</p>

Junior Marlon Yarbrough II continued to shine for the Cavaliers Friday, picking up his 11th win of the season.

After a close loss to North Carolina saw momentum on the upswing, the Virginia wrestling team hoped to capitalize and secure a win in its final regular season match of the year Friday against Pittsburgh. However, that hopefulness was stunted early on in a 35-7 defeat as the Cavaliers (7-6, 1-4 ACC) were forced to forfeit the opening 125-lbs weight class to the No. 23 Panthers (10-9, 2-3 ACC) due to health injuries that prohibited sophomores Kyle Montaperto and Sammie Hayes from competing. The theme of injuries has been prevalent for Virginia all season, and it held them back from reaching their full potential in this match. 

“I’m praying we can get healthy and get some of our guys back,” Coach Steve Garland said. “Tonight was hard to watch because it’s not who we are, or want to be, as a program.”

With the forfeited match out of the way, the Cavaliers were down six points without actually having wrestled. But they would soon find some solace in the form of junior Marlon Yarbrough II, who was able to beat his third nationally-ranked opponent of the season — redshirt freshman Vinnie Santaniello — and advance his record on the season to 11-6. 

The score was now 6-3 heading into the middle weight classes, but this was where the Panthers really took over — Pittsburgh rattled off three bonus point wins in a row to stun Virginia. First, junior Kyren Butler was defeated by major decision. The struggles then continued for the Cavaliers when, in the next match, sophomore Michael Gioffre was also defeated by major decision. To cap it all off, Panther freshman Jared Keslar pinned sophomore Nick Sanko. The score had jumped from 6-3 to 20-3 in just three matches, putting immense pressure on Virginia to win big in their next few matches. 

With opportunities for points running out, it was now or never for the Cavaliers. Unfortunately, there just was not enough in the tank for Virginia to pull off a comeback. Both sophomore Nick Hamilton and graduate student Justin McCoy lost in tight battles that would have been crucial for any comeback. These losses put the dual out of mathematical contention for the Cavaliers, and meant they would yet again drop an ACC match. 

From there, Pittsburgh kept throwing the punches. The Panthers’ senior Reece Heller defeated Virginia’s fifth-year Ethan Weatherspoon by technical fall, while Pittsburgh’s Mac Stout secured a bonus point by defeating the Cavaliers’ graduate student Krystian Kinsey via major decision. The score now read 35-3 with just one match to go.

On the bright side for Virginia, heavyweight junior Ryan Catka was able to win the final match of the day by major decision. This extended his record on the season to 13-4 and gave the Cavaliers something to be excited about for the time being. Nonetheless, the score was still 35-7 at the end of the match, and Virginia had suffered its third loss of more than 15 points in ACC play this year. 

With the regular season over, there is a lot more uncertainty about what comes next for the Cavaliers. They now sit in fifth place in a six-team wrestling conference and will have a hard time winning any ACC Championship brackets. However, one thing that is for certain is that Virginia needs time to get healthy and stay determined. The Cavaliers have suffered too many individual close losses, and that is likely starting to take a toll on the confidence of their wrestlers.

Virginia is evidently susceptible to falling behind early in matches, and if they continue that trend in the postseason, their campaign will come to a close earlier than they hope. With the ACC Championships coming up in two weeks and the NCAA Championships March 21-23, the evermore vulnerable-looking Cavaliers are far from contending for either title.

Virginia has a sizable break before heading down to Chapel Hill, N.C. for the ACC Championships March 10. The team runs as individuals for this paramount event, and there will be winners for each weight class instead of a team as a whole. 


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