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Virginia wrestling finishes ACC play with silver linings and hope for the future

The Cavaliers had three wrestlers place against stiff competition at the ACC Championships

<p>Sophomore Nick Hamilton won the ACC Championship in the 165-lbs weight class, earning the Most Outstanding Wrestler award for his efforts.&nbsp;</p>

Sophomore Nick Hamilton won the ACC Championship in the 165-lbs weight class, earning the Most Outstanding Wrestler award for his efforts. 

After a rough season of ACC matches that saw losses over four consecutive weeks, the Virginia wrestling team finished their conference play Sunday at the ACC Championships. The Cavaliers (7-6, 1-4 ACC) sent one wrestler for each weight class to the event and competed against the best from each of the six ACC schools that have wrestling teams.

In what was a long day of wrestling, Virginia was going to need lots of stamina and determination to power through and win placements in the National Championships. With most brackets only allowing the top two to three finishers to make it to nationals, the Cavaliers had a lot of work to do. 

Sophomore Kyle Montaperto led off the day for Virginia in the 125-lbs weight class. Montaperto was the four seed in his bracket and unfortunately lost his first match of the day 9-6 to Duke senior Logan Agin. Then, in the consolation semifinals, he lost again to Pittsburgh senior Colton Camacho in a 5-1 decision.

In the 133-lbs weight class, the Cavaliers sent up junior Marlon Yarbrough II, who had a bye in the quarterfinals due to his excellent 13-6 record that gave him the two seed. Yarbrough suffered an incredibly close tiebreaker loss to Virginia Tech senior Sam Latona. However, Yarbrough would use this loss as motivation for the rest of the day. He destroyed his consolation semifinal opponent in an 11-3 win and then won the consolation finals 5-2 to secure a third place finish and an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships. 

The next three weight classes saw relatively lackluster performances from Virginia. Sophomores Jack Gioffe, Michael Gioffre and Nick Sanko all entered as the five seeds in their respective brackets and suffered losses in the first round. While Jack Gioffre had a close finish in his consolation semifinals match, none of the three were able to win that either, and none earned spots in the NCAA Championships. 

Sophomore Nick Hamilton came in as the four seed in the 165-lbs weight class, but his performance Sunday indicated that he had been severely underrated. Hamilton beat his first opponent 14-2 in an absolute beatdown and then — in what was arguably his best match — he took down the top seed in the bracket, NC State sophomore Derek Fields, by a tiebreaker 2-1. Hamilton then won the championship for his bracket with a resounding 7-3 victory. It was the Cavaliers’ only individual champion of the day and their second wrestler to lock up a spot in the NCAA Championships. Hamilton also took home the award for Most Outstanding Wrestler at the end of the day, and Coach Steve Garland reflected with pride on the sophomore’s impressive achievement.

“[Nick] has been through so much … so much in his life and so much this year,” Garland said. “Injuries, illness, concussion … you name it, and he faced it this year. And yet, he overcame it all. What an amazing day.”

Next up for Virginia was graduate student Justin McCoy. McCoy was the two seed in his bracket, so he was able to evade the quarterfinals. He proceeded to win 9-6 over North Carolina graduate wrestler Tyler Eischens — the three seed — in the semifinals and had a chance to give the Cavaliers their second ACC champion of the day. However, he would fall in a 4-1 duel to the top seed in his bracket. That being said, McCoy’s season is not done, as he will also compete in the NCAA Championships. 

Fifth-year Ethan Weatherspoon represented Virginia in the 184-lbs weight class. He had a tough road to victory as the fifth seed but was able to have a solid day. Weatherspoon suffered a narrow loss in the quarterfinals to the fourth seed and then lost again in the consolation semifinals to the two seed that had been upset the round prior. However, to close out the day, Weatherspoon won the fifth-place match, which means there is a chance he is selected to go to the NCAA Championships, although he is not guaranteed a spot. 

Like Weatherspoon, graduate student Krystian Kinsey also had a rough road ahead as the fifth seed in the 197-lbs weight class. After losing his first match, Kinsey upset the two seed in his bracket to advance to the consolation finals. Once there, a nagging injury kept him from wrestling, and he accepted a medical forfeit and fourth place. But with the top four finishers in this bracket earning spots in the NCAA Championships, Kinsey will have another chance to wrestle in a couple of weeks. 

Lastly, junior Ryan Catka fought in the heavyweight division for the Cavaliers. Catka won his first match but lost in the semifinals. Once in the consolation bracket, he won his first match decisively with an 11-4 score and made the consolation finals. Unfortunately, Catka ended up losing that match and did not earn a spot in the NCAA Championships. 

Overall, Virginia’s performances earned them a fifth-place total team finish. However, the fact that four Cavaliers will be representing the team on the national stage is both impressive and exciting. With most of the team being sophomores, there is a lot of room for development within the program and clear hope for the future. 

“We’re so close and we now have to lock in… but experience is a big part of that,” Garland said. 

The season closes out for Virginia March 21-23 in Kansas City, Mo. at the NCAA Championships. Currently, there are four Cavaliers slated to wrestle, but there is a chance for more wrestlers to earn spots through selection. 

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