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PackWrestle: 2021 Upperweight Preview

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Peyton Williams/NCSU Athletics

The wrestling season is finally back with the first duals across the country beginning this weekend! The Pack will be in action on Sunday against Gardner-Webb, so let’s wrap up this preview series with our final installment: the Upperweights. The previous previews can be found below.

Links: Lightweights | Middleweights

184 Pounds

Trent Hidlay (R-So)

Preseason Ranking: FloWrestling - #3

There may not be a college guy who has raised his stock more this summer than the Hoagie Boy.

Sure he finished his redshirt freshman season with a 23-4 record. Sure he placed 2nd at CKLV, the Southern Scuffle, and ACCs. Sure he earned the #5 seed in what would have been his first trip to NCAAs. Not to mention he held victories over the #1 & #4 seeds. But Trent has continued to impress even during these dark times the sporting world has faced since March. In October, he placed 3rd in a loaded Senior Nationals bracket. His lone loss was a narrow 1-0 decision to two-time NCAA Champ, Gabe Dean. Then in December, Trent was the star of the show at FloWrestling’s RTC Cup, competing for the Wolfpack Wrestling Club. He finished the weekend with a perfect 5-0 record, including wins over multiple All-Americans and guys who have been on the senior level competing for Olympic team spots for years. The most notable victory coming over three-time All-American and current Olympic qualifier for San Marino, Myles Amine.

Trent has taken it upon himself to bring back “Raising the Roof” - it’s a shame Wolfpack Nation can’t be in Reynolds to help him with that endeavor this season, as I’m sure there would be many opportunities. However, those opportunities are not in short supply, we still have Trent for three (or hopefully four) more years. And I fully expect Trent to pick up right where he left off last NCAA season - contending for titles. There are several guys entrenched at the top of this weight class, namely Hunter Bolen of Virginia Tech, who narrowly beat Hidlay in both of their meetings in 2020. However, as we’ve all learned: 2020 was BS so we throw all those results out. That top tier of wrestlers is so closely contested, it could be any one of them that takes the title in St. Louis. But my money rides with the Pack sophomore, so let’s get that Hidlay Tag Team Champs t-shirt rolling ASAP!

197 Pounds

Nick Reenan (R-Sr)

Preseason Ranking: FloWrestling - NR

Of all the weights in our lineup, this one gives me the most concern. It has the highest variability of outcomes in that we could have a national title contender or we could end up slotting in a freshman out of desperation. Only time will tell. Flashback to Summer of 2018: fresh off his true sophomore season where he competed as a redshirt, Nick Reenan entered and won the World Team trials tournament at 86kg, beating many proven senior-level guys along the way. This would earn him a place in Final X, a best-of-3 series for the World Team spot, opposite the US Open Champion, David Taylor. Reenan lost to Taylor in two straight matches, and Taylor would go on to claim his first World Championship in Budapest. This was the expected outcome, but it capped off an insanely impressive summer for the once elite Pack recruit. Typing this out actually reminds me how eerily similar it was to the impressive summer Trent Hidlay just turned in. Reenan appeared to be turning a corner after his underwhelming freshman campaign. Hopes were high, and in the first half of the 2018-2019 season, Nick lived up to them. He started off 10-0 with two top-ten victories. Then over the holiday break, he tore his ACL and despite battling through the rest of the season, he understandably was a shadow of his former self.

Nick had surgery in the offseason, and the coaches sat him during the first part of last year to ensure he had recovered fully before returning to action. His first match back was in a December dual at App State, where he squeaked out a win he should have had handily. Unfortunately, the rest of his season went in a similar fashion, and we’ve yet to see him return to the form he held in his redshirt-sophomore campaign. He finished last year with a 5-5 record and the coaches eventually ended up shutting him down before the end of the season. We’ve seen him in some limited action this summer, but not enough to make a full assessment. It’s my opinion that he has never fully regained confidence in his previously damaged knee - you can see him favoring it at times even though it is presumably fully healed. And for that reason, I am wary of what we will get this year. If Nick has improved his bottom game and trusts his knee, he has the skillset and potential to be a title contender at this weight, which is wide open. If neither of the above have been addressed, the unfortunate career of Nick Reenan may just come to a bitter end.

In case of the latter, the Pack does have options in the form of two stud freshmen. Keep an eye out for Christian Knop and Isaac Trumble. Knop was a top-100 recruit on FloWrestling’s Class of 2019 Big Board. He missed last year with a knee injury, but was a decorated high school wrestler from Alabama where he won four state titles and finished his career a perfect 321-0. He was also a NHSCA Senior Nationals champion and was named Alabama’s #1 high school athlete in 2019. Pretty impressive to win that distinction in a football state. Trumble was a two-time state champion out of Nebraska and the #43 recruit on FloWrestling’s Class of 2020 Big Board. If Reenan were to falter, he would be my pick to man the 197 spot. I think strength-wise, he is ready to compete with college guys and his skills are undeniable. Regardless, expectations for this weight have to be tempered. Any points we may earn at ACCs or NCAAs should be viewed as gravy.

285 Pounds

Deonte Wilson (Jr)

Preseason Ranking: FloWrestling - #16

Anchoring our lineup will be the living legend, Deonte Wilson. You may remember Deonte for his last-match heroics in the UNC dual last season. If not, see below.

In a winner-take-all bout, the Pack heavyweight fought off a last second takedown to make it seven consecutive victories in the Tobacco Road rivalry, and that sent Reynolds into an absolute frenzy.

Now, in addition to the match above, Deonte actually had himself a very nice season altogether. He improved mightily over his disappointing freshman campaign, and found a recipe for success. That recipe is keeping good position, staying patient, and capitalizing on his opponents’ errors. He used this formula repeatedly in 2020 to win many close matches and ended up compiling a 19-9 record. Pitt’s Demetrius Thomas was the class of the ACC, but behind him were four good heavyweights who all lived in the 20-25 range of the FloWrestling rankings. By the end of the season, Deonte was able to separate from the pack and cement himself as the second best heavyweight in the conference. Now with Thomas graduated, I hope to see the Pack junior separate himself further and win ACCs. Nationally, however, I’m not sure Deonte is ready to jump into that All-American tier. The recent renaissance of the heavyweight division has created a talent pool that is so deep, it’s unprecedented. Wilson may be ranked at #16, but I’m not sure there is a lot of room for upward movement. There are 8 top guys at this weight that I don’t see being knocked from that perch. But if Deonte can be a Blood Round guy (top 12, one win shy of All-American honors) those few points could be huge for our team trophy hopes.

In conclusion, I really like this year’s squad. From top to bottom, our lineup is filled with studs who know what it takes to win an ACC title and notch top class wins nationally. We truly have multiple title contenders and several more All-American candidates. It should be an amazing team to watch. It would be awesome if they all returned next season as well so they can put on one more season’s worth of performances for the Wolfpack faithful, but if not, I’ll at least be glad to see them put it together in 2021. Go Pack!