Former Marshwood wrestling star Hughes was eyeing first NCAAs. Then everything changed.

By  Mike Whaley mwhaley@fosters.com @mwhaley25 Mar 16, 2020 at 7:29 PM

Former Marshwood wrestling star Cody Hughes had his college career at Virginia Tech cut short when the NCAA canceled the remainder of the season due to coronavirus concerns.

It didn’t take long for a serious high to develop into a devastating low. Cody Hughes was on the final leg of a wrestling odyssey that had him where he’d always wanted to be — competing in the NCAA Division I Tournament.

A red-shirt senior at Virginia Tech, Hughes earned his way to his first NCAAs last weekend at the Atlantic Coast Conference championships by placing fourth at 174 pounds.Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 5.01.30 PM Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 5.01.45 PM

But that good feeling dissolved Thursday afternoon when the NCAA canceled the rest of the winter tournament season in response to the growing concern over the coronavirus.

“It was definitely disappointing,” the former Marshwood High School standout said Friday. “It’s kind of indescribable. It doesn’t seem real.”

Hughes went into this week feeling pretty good about himself, especially that his wrestling career at Virginia Tech was not over.

Although he was not elated about his performance at the ACC championships, he was happy that he was going to his first NCAAs.

“Mixed emotions,” said the former Marshwood High School star. “I wanted to be an ACC champion. After the first round, obviously, that wasn’t a possibility. So there’s disappointment. But in the sport of wrestling you’ve got to have short-term memory. Forget about that first-round match. I knew the next match I had to win if I wanted to punch my ticket to the NCAAs. I forgot about the first match but also let it fuel me for the second match.”

Hughes beat Duke’s Mason Eaglin, 7-4.

“I just got on my offense and just let it fly,” he said. “Not that I think I was timid in the first match (an 11-5 loss to North Carolina’s Clay Lautt), but I knew if I won this I was going to nationals. … I was obviously happy. I was continuing my wrestling career for two more weeks.”

In the third-place match against Pittsburgh’s Gregg Harvey, Hughes lost, 7-4.

“The guy got the same shot a couple of times,” Hughes said. “I didn’t make adjustments. Everyone in that 174 bracket is a close kind of deal. Not that they brought it any more than me. Sometimes you adjust a little too late and that’s what happened to me in the two matches I lost. I didn’t make adjustments soon enough.”

It’s been a long and arduous journey for Hughes, 23, from his days at Marshwood where he was a four-time individual state champion who led the Hawks to four consecutive Class A team state titles. When he graduated in 2015, he had more wins (212) than any high school wrestler in state history.

Life at D-I Virginia Tech on scholarship has been a different world, a difficult one that he has willingly embraced.

“It was what I signed up for and committed to,” Hughes said. “I knew I had signed up for a top-level program with top-level athletes. I was going to have to work my butt off to compete.”

He ended up filling in for a short time as a freshman for the injured 174 starter, Zach Epperly. He went 15-8 with a 3-2 record in duals before Epperly returned to finish off an All-American season.

As a sophomore Hughes did a red-shirt year. His third year, he lost a wrestle-off to Hunter Bolen for the 174 spot. Bolen is now at 184 and ranked second in the country.

During his fourth year as a red-shirt junior he backed up his roommate, Dave McFadden, at 174. McFadden went on to earn his third All-American honor and placed fifth at nationals.

Hughes worked hard every year, but when the dust cleared he was in a backup role.

Until this year.

“I had to persevere through,” he said. “Fight my way through. There’s good guys at every weight. No matter what weight, it’s a battle.”

Hughes pauses and then continues: “This is my fifth year. Looking back on it without the perseverance I had it might not have been possible.”

His current record is 13-12 and his overall mark is 49-39.

Hughes traces his perseverance back to a kindergarten incident. “It was something stupid,” he recalled. “I probably had a bad practice. I just remember I was going to the practice — ‘I’m done with wrestling.’ I threw a little tantrum.”

He said his dad, Todd Hughes, looked at him and said, “You can quit after the season, but not during the season.”

It left an impression.

“That was instilled in me,” Hughes said. “You start something, you’re going to finish it. You’re going to do the best you can.”

He’s certainly applied that to his time at Virginia Tech.

“I love the sport,” said Hughes, a business administration major. “My goal is always to get as high up on that podium as I can — being a national champ, an All-American. I love the sport regardless of what happens. That mentality started a long time ago. I stuck with it. I want to finish as best I can.”

Hughes was in line to do that next week at the NCAA championships in Minneapolis.

The Tech team met late Thursday afternoon amid rumors and reports swirling around social media that the winter season was in jeopardy due to the coronavirus. Their worst fears became a reality when head coach Tony Robie gave them the word that the NCAA had canceled the remainder of the winter tournament season, finishing eight Hokies’ chance of glory at the NCAA championships.

“It effectively ended my college career, that’s for sure” Hughes said. “A lot of my teammates were disappointed. But it’s out of our hands.”

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