On Monday, Virginia Tech wrestling coach Tony Robie and men’s basketball coach Mike Young hopped on Tech Talk Live with Jon Laaser and Mike Burnop. Robie discussed the team’s huge weekend in Columbia, Mo. with two ranked wins, while Young talked about the disappointing result vs. Wake Forest on Saturday.
On the weekend that included two top-twenty wins:
Yeah, it was a lot of fun. We try to schedule matches that we feel like are going to test us and are also going to be entertaining. It’s not just about going out there and getting layups all the time. When we put our schedule together, obviously getting Ohio State at home was a great opportunity for us. Unfortunately we fell short, so I was really interested to see how the team would respond, especially going on the road and going to Missouri.
It was a pretty tough atmosphere to wrestle in. We had to leave Thursday, we didn’t get back until Sunday night at eleven o’clock at night just because it’s not easy to get to Roanoke from Columbia, Missouri. You fly in there and the airport’s like a double-wide trailer you walk into. It was interesting to say the least. For anyone that’s flown into Columbia, MIssouri, you know what I’m talking about. It was a fantastic weekend from a wrestling standpoint. I was really pleased with how our guys responded.
Against Northern Iowa, who’s really had a really good team – they’re ranked No. 17 in the country and they’re alway scrappy, tough, well-coached team – going into that match I knew we’re going to have to fight hard. That was the biggest thing throughout the course of the weekend is I felt like our guys fought hard the entire time. There was no quit, there was no give up. In our sport, in a lot of sports, especially in the sport of wrestling, that matters, and it correlates to a lot of Ws when you have that kind of mentality. And for me, that was the biggest thing and that was the thing that I was most excited about and most pleased with, with the way our guys performed. Just the effort and the pride and the competitive nature that they competed with.
On the Missouri win:
It was wild. It didn’t go our way out of the gates, we gave up a pin at 125 [pounds] in a match that we were planning on winning, and that’s a nine-point swing if you know the points in wrestling. After that match, if you’re looking at this dual meet and you’re just watching and you understand what the lineups look like, a lot of people probably didn’t give us much of a shot to win the dual meet at that particular point. That’s one of the things that we talk about a lot is just maintaining our composure and doing your job and wrestling one match at a time and just pecking away at it, and we were able to do that.
We won a lot of close matches. It was a little bit different than Ohio State where we lost a lot of close matches, so we were able to win a lot of close matches. Our guys showed a lot of perseverance, a lot of toughness, and we won matches that were difficult. Mekhi Lewis wrestled a guy [where] the match wasn’t as close as the score, but some things didn’t go his way and he really had to dig deep and find a way to win.
To me, those kind of wins are as impressive as anything else – when things don’t go your way, when you have adversity, when there’s a bad call or something happens that you don’t necessarily plan on – and finding the ability to dig deep, the desire to win those matches, those tough situations, to go to overtime. To me, that was what I was most proud of of our team, but there were all kinds of guys that stepped up.
Connor Brady defeated the No. 10-ranked guy in the country, did a great job, got a big win for us. Bryce Andonian beat a guy that he had never beaten, was 0-5 against throughout his career, through high school, and then in freestyle a few times and almost pinned him. Hunter Bolen wrestled the No. 10-ranked guy in the country. The guy came out strong and threw him down and took him down and rode him for about a minute and a half. He just persevered and ended up winning a 6-2 match. And then it got capped off at heavyweight.
Nathan Traxler, who’s a transfer from Stanford, did a fantastic job and was able to get a takedown in overtime to win the match, and that’s about as dramatic as it can possibly get in our sport. It was a lot of fun and I think those are the moments that our guys will remember throughout the course of their career and that’s kinda what we talked about before that match. It’s not the end-all be-all, but it sure as hell is fun to win those matches and to remember those moments.
On Sam Latona’s recent struggles:
Things haven’t went as planned for him in the early part of the season. As a staff we’re working hard to get it figured out to just get him back on track. Like I told him, wrestling’s a little bit like life, tough times don’t last but tough people do, and Sam’s a tough dude. I’m certain that he’ll get this thing figured out and we’ll get the train back on the tracks and get him to where he needs to be. We’re all rallying behind him. His teammates are behind him. We’ll get him to where he needs to be.
On Korbin Myers:
He was another guy this weekend – when we talk about adversity – he woke up on Saturday morning and was throwing up and was sick. He was throwing up before the match against Northern Iowa. In wrestling, we don’t travel with a whole squad so you get out there for weigh-ins and somebody gets sick, you’re either wrestling or we’re forfeiting the weight. He did a great job of kind of just rallying and doing what he had to do to get the W when it wasn’t ideal.
Korbin is one of the guys that has come a long, long ways in his time at Virginia Tech. He transferred here from Edinboro University after I think his third year, so he’s in his fourth year at Tech, but he’s made tremendous strides in that time. He’s a tremendous athlete and just really has jumped levels with his wrestling since he’s been here. He’s somebody we think can compete for a national title and is certainly good enough to win a national title for us. He’s been a great addition.
We were fired up that he came back for a seventh year. He had some injury issues a couple years back where he had neck surgery. He was actually going to hang it up after that and then we were able to talk him into coming back last year, and then that year didn’t count, so we were able to talk him into coming back again. We’re thrilled to have him.
On how Mekhi Lewis has adjusted to moving to 174 pounds this year:
I think it’s been the best thing for him. Mekhi is just the kind of athlete that – we just have to get him out there and have him feel good. In our sport, going from 174 [pounds] to 165 [pounds], that’s a big deal. These guys – they’re walking around, not carrying a lot of body fat, they don’t have a lot on them to lose. When you have to cut down a weight class, it definitely affects the weight that you feel. One of the hardest things in recruiting is being able to know what weight class a kid is going to be. These kids are committing to us when they’re 17-years-old and we’re trying to figure out what weight class they’re going to be when they’re 22-years-old, 23-years-old. It’s really difficult to do.
For us, we thought that Mekhi might end up being at 174 [pounds] eventually and he came to us after the season and we talked about it and we just felt like for him, it was going to allow him to focus on wrestling and improvement. I think we’ve seen that so far. His wrestling, it’s improved tremendously in the last year and he’s advanced his game and he did a great job this weekend.
On guys getting experience wrestling at the Patriot Open at George Mason this weekend:
So in our sport we have these open tournaments. We host one called the Southeast Open; we did that at Roanoke College this year. That allows opportunities for our guys to compete who are redshirting and then also guys who are backups. There are ten weight classes in wrestling, so we wrestle a dual meet, when we wrestle competition, we’re rolling our top ten guys out there and typically that’s it. We try to get our unattached guys – guys that are redshirting – and then our backup wrestlers to four or five open tournaments a year so that they can get 20-30 matches throughout the course of the season.
I think we have one guy who’s a true freshman who’s already wrestled 18 matches this year in three open tournaments. That experience is really valuable for them moving forward in their development and when they have the opportunity to step into the lineup – which is unique to the sport of wrestling a little bit and something we try to take advantage of.
On recruiting and building depth:
I’m really excited about the class that we signed this November. We signed three kids, that’s a small class. We didn’t have a ton of scholarship money to give and that’s one thing that people don’t understand, too, is wrestling has 9.9 scholarships. If we have one senior graduating, we might have 80% of a scholarship and we can give as much as we want. We can give them a hundred dollars or we can pay for everything. So depending on how much scholarship money we have opening a year is going to really dictate how big the class is.
We have two No. 1-ranked guys in their weight class coming in. We have the No. 1-ranked 152-pounder, a kid named Caleb Henson from Georgia, that we’re thrilled about. He actually wrestled in the Southeast Open, a college tournament, and won it. Beat a couple of ranked guys that are college wrestlers and he’s a senior in high school. Another kid named T.J. Stewart, who’s the No. 1-ranked 182 pounder in the country, who’s a phenomenal athlete. And then a kid named Tom Crook from Florida, who’s I think the No. 5 overall ranked guy at his weight class. Great class coming in. We’re looking to continue to build this thing and always bringing in elite-level guys that we think can win national titles, and that’s how you build a great program.
On the quick turnaround between the Northern Iowa and Missouri matches:
It definitely requires a lot of focus. For us, it was a great simulation though, because the NCAA tournament is a little bit like that where you have these long breaks in between matches. I think from a focus standpoint and a routine standpoint, it’s hard. You really have to, in-between matches, be able to kind of reset yourself and then relax, recover, and get nutrition in you – that’s a critical part of our sport – in-between matches. Then get yourself fired back up and your body warmed back up to go out and compete again.
It’s not the easiest thing in the world to do, and the more that we can simulate it through live competition, the better off I think we’re going to be at the end of the year when we have to do it at the NCAA tournament. The NCAA tournament is a lot of wrestle and then wait, wrestle and then wait, and there’s long breaks. Sometimes that dead time can be counterproductive.
On the changes around cutting weight:
Since I was in college – we’re going back a long ways here. I graduated in 1997 and we weighed in one time at the NCAA tournament. So the NCAA tournament is Thursday, Friday, Saturday. We weighed in Wednesday and then we didn’t have to weigh-in the rest of the event. I wrestled 158 pounds. There’s no possible way in the world I could ever weigh that again.
So now, the guys weigh in one hour before they wrestle and at the NCAA tournament you have to weigh in three times. Cutting weight really isn’t even a thing in our sport anymore, so guys have to hold their weight close – nutrition, health, lifestyle – all those things are critically important. You have to be really close to the weight that you’re walking. You have to walk around at weight that you’re wrestling at or pretty close to it.
On the strong showing from fans at the Ohio State match:
It was a fantastic crowd. I’ve been here for fifteen years, so I’ve seen firsthand our crowds grow from literally three or four hundred people, or five hundred people – we were excited if we got more than that – to we’re routinely putting 4,000-plus in the Cassell. Our goal is to continue to build that and hopefully get to a point where we can sell it out and have every seat in the place filled. It’s been fantastic. I think we all know that Virginia Tech fans are incredibly loyal and if you’re winning, they’re going to support you.
Fortunately for us, we’ve done a fair amount of winning over the course of the years and I think people – the more they learn about wrestling and the more they’re involved, the dual meet format can be really exciting. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve had some really exciting dual meets that have come down to the wire that have helped build our following. We also try to wrestle an exciting style where guys go out there and attack and try to score points. I think the fans appreciate that, too. We certainly appreciate the support that we get from Hokie Nation, from our fans, from the donors. We couldn’t do what we do and our program wouldn’t be where it’s at without the support of everybody involved, and that includes the fans and the donors.
On the matches that have taken place at the Moss Arts Center and English Field:
Those are really cool environments and unique. To me, the baseball field was probably my favorite, to be honest with you. You’re always rolling the dice for that, though. You never know what the weather’s going to be like and we got really lucky and it was a 70 degree day and that crowd, it was packed, and it was a really cool environment. It went off without a hitch. A lot of that credit goes to our marketing people and J.C. Widden and her staff. They do a fantastic job promoting it and getting the word out so it was pretty cool.
If you’ve never been to the Moss Arts Center for a wrestling match, I encourage you to get out and check it out, even if you’re not a huge wrestling fan. I can promise you, if you start going to wrestling matches, you’re going to enjoy it. Once you figure it out – it might take you a match or two to figure it out – you’ll get hooked. The Moss Arts Center is really cool. You gotta be careful what you say up there on the stage, though, because it’s really loud when it’s loud, but it’s really quiet when it’s quiet.
On the Journeyman Collegiate Wrestling Duals:
They had an event for a long time called the National Duals and it basically determined the national dual meet champion. When we go to the NCAA tournament, it’s an individual tournament, there’s a point system, it’s different. For this, they’re trying to simulate the national dual meet championship. The pool that’s there is pretty incredible. We’ve got Penn State, who’s won I think eight out of the last nine NCAA championships. University of Iowa, who is the defending NCAA champions. Arizona State, who’s got a great squad. Cornell’s got a great squad. Missouri’s going to be there.
It’s going to be an awesome event. Our guys are going to see some great competition. I think if you look at our schedule early on, we’ve got the toughest schedule in the country with Ohio State, Missouri, and then this event – there’s nobody in the country that’s going to be more battle tested going into the second half of the season than the Hokies.
On handling Christmas in the middle of the season and potentially worrying about guys eating too much:
A little bit, you do, for some guys. You gotta get a little break. This year, we’re not going to have as much time as we’d like to, because we turn around then we go wrestle in the Southern Scuffle, which is another great event, right after New Years. We’ll give our guys like five days that they can go home and be with their family and work out at home. We have a long season. We go from the first weekend in November to the third weekend in March.
Wrestling is a grind and it’s not easy, so I think it’s nice for those guys to get that short break where they can go home, spend time with their family, and just decompress a little bit mentally and emotionally, and come back fired up for the homestretch of the season. That’s kind of how we handle it within our program.
On the defensive struggles against Wake Forest and re-focusing:
We were worse. I don’t know. Trying to figure out young people. Such a huge win at Maryland, Big Ten/ACC challenge. They know what’s in front of them. Credit to Wake Forest. They played a good ball game. They made it hard on us, but we were slow to the ball, we were lethargic and I thought – which I’ve never seen this in our three years together, I’ve never seen our defense affect our offense.
I thought our lack of getting shots contested and fighting on that end in the last eight minutes was difficult. It was difficult to watch, but, as I knew they would, we took yesterday off – I saw a couple of them – I was in the building about all day – I saw a couple of them and we had great conversations. We came back tonight and they knew – they know. I asked them and everything I wanted to hear, I heard. They are about the right stuff. They are as disappointed as I am. We had a great practice and we look forward to competing again on Wednesday.
On the talent of Wake Forest:
We didn’t play well and it’s a three-point game, four-point game with ten [minutes] to play. We weren’t very sharp and having said all that, step on the gas there and get some things together and we can get out of there with a win, but it wasn’t meant to be. I’ve told you and I’ve told others, [Steve Forbes] is a good basketball coach. He’ll do a nice job down there and he is well on his way.
On the state of the rotation:
Darius Maddox is doing well. He had another really good practice tonight. I think he’s playing 17, 18 minutes a game. That’s probably going to go up a little bit in an attempt to get Hunter [Cattoor] and Nahiem [Alleyne] off the floor a little bit more, maybe a couple of minutes over a forty minute game. David N’Guessan is playing well. He’s gotta play better. He’s not finishing anything around the basket; he’s very responsible defensively; he’s rebounding the ball. He had some good plays for us in the Maryland game.
[Sean] Pedulla is close, closer than he has been. Probably should’ve played him a little bit more. John [Ojiako] is right there as well. I’m still working with it. It’s still early December and I want to get it right. Want to get it right for a number of reasons. That’s the best I can give you for right now.
On Keve Aluma’s success from behind the arc against Wake Forest:
He had only made two going into Saturday’s game and I thought he was a little hesitant for whatever reason. He’s a terrific shooter. There’s been a pause in his shot, like he’s unsure if that’s a good shot or a bad shot, but I thought Saturday he was very fluid, he had his feet under him. When he found himself open, he put the ball in the hole as we encourage him to do.
He made four I believe – he even got the one down in the second half that hit the back of the iron and rolled in the basket. That is an encouraging sign. I think it gives you a lot of heartburn when you can put five guys on the floor who can make a shot as we can. We’re still mixing and matching and some better ways to space the floor with some of that stuff as well. We’ll get to that real soon.
What is the one mistake that gets under your skin?
Bad shot. Bad shot in transition baskets. That’s typically a made three or a dunk. Miscommunication on the foul line. We had two of those. The second shot usually finds the bottom of the hole. It’s typically close to the basket or it’s a spray out to the perimeter for a guy that the ball finds, a loose ball like that, an offensive rebound, the ball typically finds the other team’s best shooter. Just a collection of like, “what in the world are we doing here?” We looked at all of them today and it was not a pretty sight, but we got it cleared up. We had a great practice and look forward to playing again on Wednesday.
On not preferring conference games in December:
I don’t think it’s our program in particular. I think any of us would say the same thing. It’s not an excuse. We played Clemson out of the gate in our first ACC game, my first game here in 19-20 and we won, if you recall. We had a bad game at home against Penn State in the ACC/Big Ten challenge a year ago on Saturday – we had a week off. We had ACC coming to town in the ACC opener at home and played a very good ball game. We were up 19. They pulled it back, but we won 65-60.
You’re trying to get everything together. The lineups you’re talking about. There’s so much timing involved in the offense and I don’t like it. Now having said that, I’m not making excuses, I’m not. If we’re going to play 20 league games, and that decision was made way above my head before I got here, there’s no way to cram 20 league games after Christmas. You have to play at least one. We play two this year.
How about that for good luck – to go to Duke on December 22 and then North Carolina December 29 – lucky me. You have nothing to do with the league schedule. I’m not bemoaning that fact, but it does make it difficult and if I had my druthers I’d rather start league play at the new year.
On the Pinstripe Bowl and thoughts on Brent Pry:
You both know that I love baseball. I have not been to the new Yankee Stadium. I can’t believe I haven’t been. When Dad was here, we’d take a baseball trip. Margaret’s dad, myself, my brother-in-laws, my brother and we’d been to a bunch of them: Nationals Stadium, Fenway Park, never been to the new one, I’ll correct that. I am beyond excited about Coach Pry, Amy, their family and bringing them here. Great energy. I know his track record tells you that he’s a heck of a football coach and will be a great leader for our program. I look forward to spending time with him.
They really shoot it and they fly. They are No. 1 in the country in pace of play. So a Hokie basket and here they come like a herd of buffaloes and a shots going up from three. They’ve got a number of guys that can shoot it. They play a lot of people.
It’s not one that if I’d go back to last April, May I would’ve done again. But we needed another one. The Ivys didn’t play a year ago. They had struggled the last time they were out in 19-20. But Brian Earl – Dan is his brother, the head coach at VMI – is doing a nice job. He’s got a nice outfit. We’ve got our hands full.
On the game being at 9 p.m.:
Oh my gosh, are you kidding me? Really? Really? Virginia Tech vs Cornell in December, we’re playing that game at nine o’clock? That makes for a long one. I hope it doesn’t go to overtime like that Miami game our first year together.
Well, they struggled early. Lost some games I know they didn’t expect to win, but Anthony Grant up there is a friend, a good coach. They stuck with it, plugged, and hung in there. They went to Orlando, I think it was, and won a tournament down there, beat Kansas, beat a good Belmont team to win the thing. I have not seen them very much at all. I have not seen them very much at all. I saw a little bit of the Belmont game. I think we played that same day.
It’s a great basketball venue. There’s a reason they play the first four of the NCAA tournament there, because it’s always so well attended. They’re smart basketball fans. Student section is right there to your left. Lounge area up top. It’s nuts. It will be a great test for us and a great lead up, really good lead up, as will the St. Bonaventure game, for ACC play.
On Hunter Cattoor’s performance against Wake Forest:
Never did I think that he would draw the best player for the other team, that assignment, best back court player. And he’s doing it night in and night out. He did it last Wednesday against Eric Ayala, who came in averaging 13, 14, I thought their best player, and did a remarkable job. Ayala had three points.
He’s there on the catch. He contests every shot. He did a really nice job with [Alondes] Williams. Did not score the ball, neither did Nahiem [Alleyne], neither did Storm [Murphy]. All three of those guys were below double figures and that handcuffs you a little bit. I do think that that is a one-off. I know it is for those three guys. If one’s off, one of the others has been ringing the bell and I think we’ll see that as we move along.