2022 Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational

Hokie Insider: VT Readies For Vegas After Getting Tested In November

Hokie Insider: VT Readies For Vegas After Getting Tested In November

The Keystone Open and NWCA All-Star Classic and gave Tony Robie insight into his Virginia Tech squad. He'll learn more this weekend in Las Vegas.

Nov 30, 2022 by James Carlson
Hokie Insider: VT Readies For Vegas After Getting Tested In November
Virginia Tech might have traveled south to get back to Blacksburg after the recent Keystone Open in Philadelphia, but the directional needle on the Hokies’ level of production and progression after the one-day tournament was pointing due north.

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Virginia Tech might have traveled south to get back to Blacksburg after the recent Keystone Open in Philadelphia, but the directional needle on the Hokies’ level of production and progression after the one-day tournament was pointing due north. 

After five champions and a title-winning 174.5 points, Tech will take that swagger and confidence out west this week and compete in the prestigious Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, which arguably has grown into the most talent-laden, in-season tournament.

However, coach Tony Robie said because of injury in some places and strategy at some others, the Hokies’ lineup won’t be quite as potent as it was in Philly.

“Our lineup is going to be not completely full; we don't have an entry at 49 — (#11 Caleb) Henson’s not gonna wrestle; (#4 Bryce) Andonian’s not gonna wrestle (at 157); Drew Nicholson's going to wrestle at '65 but (#20 Connor) Brady has kind of established himself as the leader at that weight class; and then we're not going to have an entry at heavyweight (#17 Hunter Catka),” Robie revealed.

“For the guys that are competing, it's going to be a great opportunity to for them to see some really good competition in a tournament setting, and that tournament’s a grind,” he added. “You're not going to see that a lot during the season where you could potentially wrestle seven, eight, nine matches over the course of two days, depending on where you fall on the bracket, against some high-level competition.

“I think that that's the challenge, for sure. If you can stay on the front side, it makes it a hell of a lot easier for you … to keep winning and get to the finals. But I think we'll find out a lot more about our guys and see where our guys are after competing in this event.”

Just Fine In Philly 

Ninth-ranked Sam Latona’s 7-2 finals victory over #10 Michael Colaiocco of Penn at 133 pounds was not lost on Robie. 

“I think he wrestled really well, probably the best that he's wrestled in a long time,” Robie said. “Since the Southeast Open when he took that loss, he's made some adjustments strategically that I think have helped him and I think it showed against Ohio State, and I think it showed throughout the Keystone Classic, especially against Colaiocco, who’s obviously very good.

“He really dominated that match; he was impressive and was never really threatened. His leg attacks look fantastic. I was really pleased with where he's at. I'm excited to see him moving forward.”

Robie said Eddie Ventresca’s tiebreaker victory over teammate Cooper Flynn in the 125-pound finals at the Keystone Open didn’t nail down that starting spot. 

“That will be determined by competition,” he said. “Ventresca is going to wrestle in Vegas, and then Cooper will have opportunities moving forward as well. That situation will likely come down to which guy competes the best and which guy can go out and beat highly-ranked guys and perform well against competition.”

Robie also was pleased with freshman Caleb Henson, who took third at 149 after a 7-5 sudden-victory defeat to #10 Doug Zapf of Penn. 

“Zapf is good, there's no shame in losing that match. But I think Caleb had more opportunities to get to his offense that he didn't take advantage of,” Robie said.

“And he's got to wrestle a little bit smarter in overtime, just stick to some fundamental defense. He kind of went for the home run when the guy got to his leg, and it just wasn't a smart decision. I do think he was capable of maybe getting another score on his feet and he just needed to pull the trigger more to do that. Early in the season, it's about making adjustments and getting better as we go.”

All-Star Review

Tech’s NWCA All-Star Classic duo of Mehki Lewis (174) and Bryce Andonian (157) both suffered narrow defeats in Austin, but Robie said they’ll both benefit from the experience.

Second-ranked Lewis dropped a 2-0 decision to #1 Carter Starocci of Penn State, yielding an escape and riding-time point. 

“We definitely have to get to an attack and be able to get a takedown, and hopefully a takedown early, because everybody knows Mekhi’s got great re-attacks,” Robie said. “We have to work harder on the mat, both riding and on bottom; we're gonna have to make some adjustments on bottom based on what we saw.”

Fourth-ranked Andonian fell 3-1 to Michigan’s second-ranked Will Lewan, and Robie said getting penetration to Lewan’s legs proved to be difficult. 

“He (Lewan) was tough for us to get to, and to hold Bryce to no offensive points is not easy to do. I think that that's an adjustment we have to make,” he said.

“We're not overly concerned about an exhibition match in November, to be quite honest with you. So for us, it's about trying to get ready for the end of the year and making sure that we're improving where we need to improve throughout the course of the season.”