Pat Popolizio earned his third ACC title, and second in as many years up in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Behind the points of its two conference champions, Jakob Camacho and Hayden Hidlay, the Pack was able to outlast the strongest field in ACC history. That included three other top-10 programs, but it ended up being the hosts, Pittsburgh, that almost chased down NC State.
The Pack had the most semi-finalists (9) and finalists (6) in the field, but lost a little ground in the finals to Pitt and UNC, who each had three champions to NC State’s two. However, the rest of the lineup was strong enough throughout the rest of the tournament that the Tarheels and Panthers were unable to overcome the lead we had built.
At 125, the story of the tournament was Jakob Camacho ousting the #1 seed and returning NCAA finalist, Jack Mueller. If you’ll recall back from the dual recap against Virginia in January, I felt that Camacho gained confidence from this exact matchup. In the dual, Jakob turned it on late against Mueller and earned a third-period takedown that was not significant in the match result, but I felt would raise his confidence. Fast forward to Sunday, and you could see the confidence radiating from Camacho as he came to the mat for the finals. He wrestled with that same swagger and took it to Mueller early this time. The Cavalier did not have an answer for Jakob’s attacks and pace and was one point from being majored. This was certainly an unexpected result, but a welcome one for Pack fans. It earned Camacho Most Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament, and will certainly elevate his NCAA seed when brackets come out on Wednesday.
In the 141 finals, Tariq Wilson fell for the first time in his career to Zachary Sherman of UNC. This was an odd match, and really just an odd bracket as Virginia Tech’s #3 seed Mitch Moore weighed-in but did not wrestle due to a concussion (Moore had to weigh-in to be eligible for an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament). This, plus the fact that Duke did not enter a 141 wrestler, led to Sherman getting a bye straight to the finals. In that match against Tariq, there were a few strange positions that Sherman came out on the plus-side of, which was enough to squeak out the victory. This in no way changes my perception of this rivalry. I still believe that Tariq is the better guy and will win this matchup 9 times out of 10 going forward, but the stars aligned for Sherman on Sunday, and he left with the gold as a result.
We all know what happened at 157. If it’s Hayden Hidlay vs. [insert ACC opponent name here], then you know Hayden won. He is undefeated against ACC competition in his career, and in this one he earned another bonus point victory over Taleb Rahmani of Pitt to take the gold and move to 128-0 against Rahmani in his career.
At 174, Daniel Bullard fell to Clay Lautt of UNC. This match was eerily similar to the dual, where Lautt was able to get a couple early takedowns on quick finishes that mitigated Bullard’s scrambling ability. Unfortunately, this time Bullard was unable to secure a takedown of his own to get to his dominant top game, like he did in the dual.
In the marquee match of the tournament, Trent Hidlay and Hunter Bolen met in the 184-pound final. This one was also similar to the bout in the dual, where neither guy was able to get much offense going. And unfortunately, sometimes when that happens the referee will step-in and decide the match – this is what happened here. Trent got dinged with an early stall warning and got hit for a second when he kicked out of a Bolen leg attack. If this critical exchange would have happened in the center of the mat, nothing would have been called. However, the action drove the wrestlers to the edge of the mat. So when Trent kicked out, his momentum took him out of bounds and the official called the second stalling for fleeing the mat, and thus a point was awarded to Bolen. Rather than being tied 1-1 in the third after trading escapes, Hidlay found himself down 2-1 and chasing the match. He was able to get in very deep on a shot, and even got to a position where he lifted Bolen into the air. It was almost a sure thing that Trent would finish the two-point takedown, but somehow the Hokie was able to stave it off to win, 2-1. It’s tough that a match with such huge implications, as the winner likely earns the 1-seed at NCAAs, was decided by a referee and not the wrestlers, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. It’ll just make Trent hungrier.
In the heavyweight final, Deonte Wilson showed some good things and closed the gap on Demetrius Thomas of Pitt. These two have wrestled three times this year, with Thomas winning all three, but Deonte is getting closer. At the Southern Scuffle in January it was 8-3, in the dual in February, it was 6-2, and on Sunday it was 5-4.
In all, Pack wrestlers placed high enough to earn automatic qualification spots at eight of ten weight classes. We will wait to see if Leitten can get an at-large bid at 149 – he should be right on the bubble.
- 125: Camacho – 1st
- 133: Trombley – 4th
- 141: T. Wilson – 2nd
- 149: Leitten – 4th
- 157: H. Hidlay – 1st
- 165: T. Bullard – 3rd
- 174: D. Bullard – 2nd
- 184: T. Hidlay – 2nd
- 197: Houghton – 4th
- 285: D. Wilson – 2nd
*bold indicates placement earned an NCAA automatic bid
- NC State - 81.0
- Pitt - 77.0
- UNC - 67.5
- Virginia - 60.5
- Virginia Tech - 52.0
- Duke - 2.0
Now the countdown to NCAAs begins. March 19-21. But before then (Wednesday), we will get brackets, at which point the entire wrestling world will walk through hypothetical scenarios. It’s the best time of the year.