When 2018 national champion Mekhi Lewis announced he would sit out the 2019 season in preparation for the Olympic trials, what many speculated to be a punch in the gut to the Virginia Tech wrestling program has instead fueled one of the greatest starts in program history.
This was evident when Tech knocked off the No. 6 Missouri Tigers, a contest in which the Hokies were not favored. The Hokies also took down another ranked opponent in No. 21 Northwestern in a close 21–18 thriller in the first Virginia Tech “Mat on the Mound” wrestling match.
The third and debatably most impressive victory for this school's wrestling team in the past five years was another tight battle when Virginia Tech arrived off the bus in Columbus, Ohio, taking a victory against No. 3 Ohio State.
The matchup would be considered the most anticipated and arguably most difficult challenge for the Hokies in their already difficult schedule. Entering this classic underdog matchup ranked nationally at No. 11, it appeared as though Virginia Tech had not received the recognition necessary for its current record heading into the matchup.
Sunday afternoon would put an end to that discussion as redshirt freshman Collin Gerardi, wrestling at 133 pounds, made a statement early when he defeated No. 14 Quinn Kinner in a 7–1 decision capped by a reversal and four-point nearfall in favor of Gerardi. Following a loss by Mitch Moore, the Hokies would create a sizeable lead of eight points as the scoreboard read 15–7 due in part to the efforts of Brent Moore, B.C. LaPrade, Cody Hughes and Hunter Bolen as each of them secured a victory. Ohio State would not be counted out though as No. 1 ranked Kollin Moore virtually dominated Hokie redshirt sophomore Stanley Smeltzer in a match that ended in a 24-9 score in favor of Moore.
This win, after another from Chase Singletary of Ohio State, would pull Ohio State to within 3 points of Virginia Tech as it appeared as though it might slip through Tech’s fingertips. The outcome of the contest then fell into the hands of Joey Prata, the 125-pound redshirt junior out of Richmond, Virginia, and he would not be denied. Prata has won every match he has wrestled this year after struggling mightily during a disappointing 2018 campaign, but with victory in sight, he refused to let his team down.
After defeating No. 20 Malik Heinselman in a tight decision, Prata began to celebrate as time ran out by pumping his fists and screaming toward the Hokie bench. In what might be one of the most important positions Prata has ever been thrust into, he took care of business as Virginia Tech stunned an Ohio State crowd used to leaving the mat happy.
“I was really proud of the way our guys stayed in there and fought and battled in pressure situations,” said head coach Tony Robie.
The Hokies will look to carry their momentum going into the Navy Classic on Nov. 23 in Annapolis, Maryland.