Virginia Tech Wrestling Preseason Notes With Tony Robie

Tony Robie
Virginia Tech and Tony Robie return some experience, but they’ll have their hands full with a tough schedule. (Ivan Morozov)

The Virginia Tech wrestling season kicks off in less than a month in Salem with the Southeast Open on Saturday, November 5. 

With the season quickly approaching, Tech Sideline spoke with head coach Tony Robie about the team’s offseason, who stood out and the Hokies’ schedule in 2022. Here are a few takeaways:

Starting spots at 125, 165 and 197 pounds are still up for grabs

With Sam Latona and Bryce Andonian moving up weight classes — and Clayton Ulrey possibly bumping down to 157 pounds — three starting spots remain to be secured.

“There’s been very little separation between the two guys in each weight class,” Robie said. “We’re hoping that there’s someone [who] emerges as a clear cut favorite or ahead of the pack, but as of right now, I think it’s completely up in the air.”

In April on the Tech Sideline Podcast, Robie said Cooper Flynn and Eddie Ventresca are duking it out for the starting spot at 125 pounds, while Cody Howard and Andy Smith battle at 197. There is no front runner as of right now at 165 pounds.

Latona, Andonian finding comfortability in new weight classes

As previously mentioned, Latona and Andonian are bumping up to heavier weight classes this year. Robie said the transition period for both grapplers has been smooth. 

“It’s gone great,” Robie said of the adjustment. “Moving up a weight class does a lot for your mind. You have the ability to feel good, eat more, you can put nutrition in you [and] have more energy. If you ask [Latona and Andonian], they would be thrilled with it, kind of where they’re at. 

Bryce Andonian
Bryce Andonian, who was 13-4 last season, is jumping up to a heavier weight class. (Ivan Morozov)

“They look good in practice, it allows them to be more consistent in practice. I think they’re both going to have great years.”

Moving up a weight class provides flexibility for two of the more talented guys on the Virginia Tech roster as both look to return to All-American form in March. Latona was 14-9 in 2022 while Andonian posted a 13-4 record.

Lewis, Bolen ready for final seasons

Two other former All-Americans aim to finish their Hokie careers on a high note this season. Mekhi Lewis, who placed second in last year’s NCAA tournament, will compete for another national championship in his senior season.

“I just think that [Lewis] is really focused right now and he’s matured in a lot of areas,” Robie said. “I think that he’s in a really good place and his consistency with his workouts and his lifestyle have been really good.

“A focused Mekhi Lewis is a scary Mekhi Lewis.”

Lewis’ loss last year to Penn State’s Carter Starocci ended a standout season on a sour note. Hunter Bolen’s NCAA tournament performance left him feeling discontent as well — he finished 1-2 after getting bounced by Penn State’s Aaron Brooks in the round of 16.

The poor performance was part of the reason Bolen decided to return to Virginia Tech for a fifth season, and Robie said he’s locked in for 2022.

“[Hunter’s] really got to stay dialed in on wrestling and not get overly distracted with some of the things that he likes to do outside of wrestling,” Robie said. “It’s no secret he loves to fish and he loves to hunt, and that’s fine to a point, but when it’s time to focus on wrestling, it’s time to focus on wrestling, and that’s what he needs to do.

Hunter Bolen
Hunter Bolen is back for another season at Virginia Tech and is locked in. (Ivan Morozov)

“I think he knows that, we’ve talked about it. He’s been much better about it this year.”

Freshman Henson impressing early on

Andonian’s move up to 157 pounds opened up a spot at 149, which will be filled by true freshman Caleb Henson. 

The Georgia native has had an impressive offseason, so much so that he’s convinced the coaching staff he’s ready to be a starter in his first year in Blacksburg.

“I just think [Henson’s] got a lot of tools,” Robie said. “He checks a lot of the boxes that it requires to be great. He’s an incredible athlete. He’s a great learner, his wrestling IQ is really, really high. That’s something that not a lot of guys have. It’s hard to see in the recruiting process how well you can learn and how well you can implement things and make changes and in-match adjustments. 

“His toughness and his work ethic are at a high level, especially for a true freshman.”

While Henson has been impressive early on, however, he must still work through some of the things that can plague college freshmen.

“He’s still got to avoid some of the pitfalls that happen to guys when they’re freshmen and being away from home,” Robie said. “Adjusting to college life and the length of the season and the difficulty of the schedule and all of those things.

“We still have to help him navigate, so that’s our job to make sure that he’s doing his best wrestling at the end of the year, but when he’s doing his best wrestling, he’s impressive.”

Strong schedule created to help prepare for the postseason

The Hokies are slated to wrestle three teams currently ranked in the top six this season.

Virginia Tech travels to Columbus, Ohio to take on No. 4 Ohio State on Nov. 11 in the Hokies’ first dual of the year — Tech fell to OSU in last year’s meeting in Blacksburg, 17-13.

Mekhi Lewis
Mekhi Lewis and the Hokies have an opportunity to get revenge on Ohio State after losing last year in Blacksburg. (Ivan Morozov)

Robie and Co. also host No. 3 Missouri on Dec. 11 in Cassell Coliseum and No. 6 Cornell on Jan. 6 in the Moss Arts Center.

Wrestling some of the country’s best teams in the regular season allows the Hokies to be better prepared for postseason wrestling in March.

“I think [the matches] are great opportunities for our guys to showcase their skill, they’re great opportunities for us to evaluate our guys and our team,” Robie said. “I think that you want to have those before the NCAA tournament, and we’ve got plenty of them this year with our guys. Our kind of philosophy, it’s a fine line, for sure, with having your schedule to be too much or too little. You try to want to hit that sweet spot, that’s not always easy to do.

“We’re excited about the challenges that lie ahead. Especially early in the season, and then making adjustments and improvements when we need to, when it’s the most important.”

With No. 12 N.C. State visiting Blacksburg for the first time since Sam Latona’s buzzer-beating win over Jakob Camacho in 2021, Virginia Tech will host three matches against schools ranked in the top 12. 

The packed home schedule is a nice reward for a fan base that has been so supportive of the program.

“I think [the schedule] is great,” Robie said. “Having a fan base that’s really passionate about your team, that follows your team, that’s willing to travel to the NCAA championships and travel to watch your team in away venues — it says a lot about where you’re at and I think that’s where kids want to go.

“Kids want to go wrestle at places that have great fan bases and we do, there’s no question. Part of our thought process with our schedule is we want to reward them. We want our fans to be able to watch us wrestle teams like Missouri and Cornell out of conference.”

7 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I know Lewis has been a part of VT for a good while but I still have the ‘he just got here’ mentality. He’s an elite grappler and a sharp kid, hope he grabs the brass ring this year. Diggin the character of this team, we have some ‘dudes’, no doubt.

  2. Mekhi has one more year of eligibility after 2023…do you know more than the rest of us? I could see him not taking it since he had an olympic shirt and the covid shirt but would love to get one more in 24′
    It certainly is a grind and I wouldn’t blame the guy for not taking the added year. Good Article.

  3. Thanks… but “comfortability?” Congrats on squeezing seven extra letters into “Comfort”. Don King would be proud!

  4. The dual line-up and invitational trnys are going to be really tough to weather. but exciting. It may look like the team is struggling at times, but it will harden then for the ACCT and NCAAT. This could go down as one of the best teams we send to the mat.

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