Cavalier Corner

February 2021

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FEBRUARY 2021 25 BY BILL BUNTING W hen Louie Hayes stepped on the mat at the Appa- lachian State Individual Quad at the beginning of January to start a new sea- son — his fifth with the Virginia wrestling team — he did so with a sense of appre- ciation that he had not experienced before, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and partly because of the path his career had taken over the past four years as a Cavalier. The feeling started with practice the day before when members of the squad were cutting weight, but the true emotion took over that Saturday while he focused on starting a season that had been delayed by two months from its normal start date. "It just felt good to get the V-sabre singlet back on," Hayes said. "The competition feel is so much different, and it's really hard to emulate it in practice and simulation matches. That feeling can't be replicated. You can only feel it once you're out there. "The nerves were back, the excitement was back and the thrill of it all was back. It was definitely one of the best feelings I've had in a long time." Hayes redshirted his first season at Vir- ginia, following a standard path in the sport where student-athletes take the first year to adjust to competing at the collegiate level. He wrestled in an unattached capacity at open tournaments around the country. In those redshirt years, student-athletes must travel on their own and are not allowed to wear team-issued gear in competition or receive coaching during their matches. The following year, his first in the varsity lineup, Hayes exploded onto the national scene at 125 pounds. He posted a 31-8 record that season and was an All-ACC honoree. He went undefeated in league competition and was run- ner-up at the ACC Championships, falling to four-time NCAA qualifier and redshirt junior Sean Fausz of North Carolina State. Hayes would avenge that loss a few weeks later, defeating Fausz in the second round of the NCAA Tournament with a 10-4 decision in overtime. Hayes finished his second season with the program one win shy of earning All- America honors after facing a gauntlet of competitors at the NCAA Tournament that included eventual NCAA finalist and then 2019 NCAA champion Nick Suriano of Rutgers, and eventual three-time All-Ameri- can Sebastian Rivera, who was wrestling for Northwestern at the time. "I would be lying if I said I walked into that season thinking I'd have the success I had, but I was definitely ready to make an impact," Hayes said. "By the time ACCs and NCAAs rolled around, I was ready to win no matter who I wrestled against." Hayes then experienced the first of back- to-back seasons where he did not compete at the NCAA Championships. Expectations were high for him in 2018-19, but he failed to make weight multiple times at the start of the year and was unable to compete. He bumped up a weight class to 133 pounds at the end of December when the Cavaliers traveled to face sixth-ranked Missouri. He finished out the year at that weight class but did not receive a bid to the NCAA Championships. Missing the national tour- nament drove him in his red- shirt junior season a year ago. "It was very humbling," Hayes recalled. "I went from one of the high points of my career to one of my low points. It definitely was in the back of my mind how bad it felt and the choices I made that caused me to miss weight multiple times. I'm not happy I fell into those situations, but it taught me a lot of important life lessons. "You realize that if you don't do every- thing right and mess up a couple of times throughout the week with regards to your weight, it can hurt you, and it hurt me a few times when I didn't get to wrestle. It definitely fueled me to have more gratitude for the sport." Hayes took that new feeling and used it throughout the 2019-20 campaign, power- ing his way to 21 wins and a third-place ACC finish to lock up an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships. However, the event was canceled last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, denying him the chance to compete at na- tionals for a second straight year. Following the cancellation of the tour- nament, Hayes was admitted to graduate school and began working toward a master's degree in commerce. The reduced schedule this season allowed him to make that transi- tion with fewer distractions and to spend more time with his family. One of 10 children and the oldest of seven boys, Hayes also has an older sister and two other sisters who are also in college. "I got really close to my sisters over the pandemic when we were all home," Hayes said. "It was cool to be able to mentor my younger brother Sammy, who is a ju- nior in high school and navi- gating his college recruit- ment. Being able to go home and wrestle and connect with my brothers, who are close to me in age and weight, and pass on some knowledge was really neat." Hayes is taking the lessons he learned over the past two years to heart. Ranked No. 11 nationally at 133 pounds by FloWrestling entering February, he relishes each chance to step on the mat. "There's motivation, but in a different way from a motivational speech or hype music," Hayes said. "It's motivation to just soak in the moment. It's motivation to enjoy every practice, every tournament and every match this season. To smile when I'm out on the mat and not get down on myself, and be glad that I have another year." Finding Motivation in Finding Motivation in GRATITUDE Redshirt Fourth-Year Wrestler Louie Hayes Is Making The Most Of His Final Season At UVA "I have been motivated to train hard and come back with a ven- geance, but more than anything to enjoy every sec- ond of the year, my teammates and my coaches." HAYES Hayes entered February ranked No. 11 in the country at 133 pounds by FloWrestling. PHOTO COURTESY UVA

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