This was a busy summer for wrestling. Team USA had a historic showing at the Olympics in Tokyo, then carried that into Oslo at the World Championships just last week. The Olympic performance created mainstream stardom for several of our top performers, including current NCAA heavyweight champion, Gable Steveson. The new Name, Image, & Likeness rules adopted by the NCAA have changed the game completely and have created avenues for the sport’s biggest college stars to generate revenue and build their brand beyond the wrestling world. The University of Iowa became the first Power 5 school to officially add a women’s wrestling program. This is likely to be the first, and maybe largest, domino to fall in a revolutionary movement to bring equal opportunity for female wrestlers in this country. All of this, and we haven’t even had a college folkstyle match in nearly 7 months.
So let me circle back and repeat: this was a busy summer for wrestling. And I basically just took all that time off and left you all in the dark. My bad. I owe you all an update on what has been going on with our beloved PackWrestle.
One ingredient to Pop’s recipe for success since his arrival in Raleigh has obviously been recruiting. He has done so at a high level since his hiring, but over the past couple years he has become more consistent with his classes, stringing several top hauls back-to-back. The 2021 class, which included five top-100 recruits, was ranked #4 in the country by FloWrestling and are now on campus beginning their freshmen campaigns. Following the #8 class in 2020, you would think Pop would be content and cool down for 2022. Errr...wrong. The 2022 class, who are entering their final high school seasons, is likely going to be the strongest since 2016, and possibly the best in the country.
NC State has earned commitments from five guys in the top-60 of MatScouts’ 2022 Big Board: #11 Matt Singleton (#3 at 170), #16 Chase Horne (#3 at HWT), #29 Jackson Arrington (#2 at 145), #32 Dylan Fishback (#1 at 195), and #60 Finn Solomon (#8 at 138). These kids are talented, but they are also cut from the NC State cloth. They are hard-workers and good fits for our culture. And they have been earning their rankings this summer - Fishback (1st), Horne (2nd), and Arrington (4th) all placed at Fargo in July, one of the premier high school tournaments in the country. Fishback and Arrington parlayed that into appearances at FloWrestling’s Who’s Number One card last month. Flo puts this card on every year where they invite the top two high school wrestlers at nearly every weight class to wrestle for the #1 spot in their rankings. NC State has had several WNO alumni including Nick Reenan, Ryan Jack, Stevo Poulin, both Hidlays, and Chase Horne. Both Fishback and Arrington won their bouts and are currently ranked #1 by FloWrestling. Fishback has been particularly impressive - his bracket at Fargo was by far the toughest and he ran through multiple ranked opponents to take home the title. I can’t wait to get these dudes on campus.
It would be my guess that this will pretty much wrap up the 2022 class. Coach will shift his attention to the upcoming season and recruiting some 2023 and beyond guys. Keep an eye out for hammers like Rocco Welsh (#4 at 170, 2023) and PJ Duke (#8 at 126, 2025) as guys that we have an in with and could turn up the heat on.
Donnie & Gwiz Depart
In July, pretty much out of nowhere, it was announced that Assistant Coach Donnie Vinson and Wolfpack RTC wrestler Nick Gwiazdowski were moving to Cornell and the Spartan Combat RTC. It was common knowledge after Rob Koll left Ithaca for the head coaching spot at Stanford, that new HC Mike Grey would be looking to fill-out his staff. But I have to admit, I didn’t even consider that Vinson & Gwiz would be on the radar. Nothing against Donnie or Nick, but Cornell is a top program with one of the best RTCs in the country, and I didn’t think that either of them had accrued quite the coaching CV to get a look. But in one fell swoop, they were both gone.
This appears to be an upward move for Donnie who goes from the #3 on our staff behind Popolizio and Hall, to the #2 behind Grey at Cornell.
Thank you @PackWrestle for all of the support over the past few years. It was not an easy decision to leave such a great family. I’m excited to get back to my old stomping grounds and start this new chapter. https://t.co/2MJVOtLF7v— Donald Vinson (@ddoginabearden) July 6, 2021
And for Nick, I believe he was looking for a change of scenery to rejuvenate his career. This was the first year since 2016 that he didn’t win the spot as the American rep for the World Championships (he fell to eventual Olympic Gold medalist, Gable Steveson in the Trials finals) and perhaps felt that he had grown as much as he could in the Wolfpack RTC room.
On top of that, these are both upstate New York boys, so we can’t discount the value that returning home may have held for them. No matter the reasons, their contributions (especially Nick’s) to our program have been immeasurable and greatly appreciated and they will both be missed.
Yesterday I had my last workout @ NC State then proceeded to crush a triple Hall Of fame Burger from @MoJoesBurgers . Possibly my most proud accomplishment while in Raleigh. pic.twitter.com/vuI3Y7HpE6— Nick Gwiazdowski (@NGWIZZZ) July 21, 2021
Timmy McCall & Kevin Jack Promoted
As with many blue-collar organizations, there tends to be a resilience and toughness that lends itself to a “next man up” mentality. And that is the case here with the departures of Donnie & Nick. While the immediate news stung, it opened up opportunities for two deserving candidates from within the program. Timmy McCall, who served as Volunteer Assistant for the past two seasons, and who has been with the program in some capacity since 2015, was promoted to Assistant Coach in August. Most every college program has a four-man coaching staff, and McCall essentially moved up from the #4 to the #3 in this situation. This move into Donnie’s opening, created a vacancy for the Volunteer Assistant position, which was promptly filled by former Pack wrestler, Kevin Jack. Kevin spent the last two years on staff as the Recruiting Coordinator, but officially jumps into the coaching ranks with this move. His younger brother, Ryan, is beginning his second season in Raleigh and will likely be a contender for the starting spot at 141 this year.
Both McCall and Jack have been in or around the program for a long time, so I am confident that they are up to snuff and the void left by Vinson’s departure will not be noticeable. If Pop says they’re ready, I will take that to the bank.
The schedule for the 2021-2022 season has finally been announced. The Pack open up with a couple of Open tournaments in early November before their first dual in Reynolds on the 21st, where they will host West Virginia.
2021-22 @PackWrestle Schedule— NC State Wrestling ♂️ (@PackWrestle) October 5, 2021
The back-to-back-to-back ACC Champs will host five duals inside Reynolds Coliseum, including ACC contests vs. Virginia Tech, Virginia & UNC!#PackMentality
️: https://t.co/UBEiEA3idZ pic.twitter.com/Rp9R8IdTfd
A couple of noteworthy items on the schedule:
- The Collegiate Wrestling Duals on December 20 & 21 are going to be must-watch. This is essentially a rebirth of the National Duals where a few weeks before the individual NCAA tournament, the best dual teams in the country used to gather and run through a bracket to determine the Dual Team National Champions. This will be an exclusive event with only the best dual teams in attendance. Those teams include: Iowa, Penn State, Arizona State, Michigan, and NC State among others. I cannot wait for this as I believe dual meets are the best and most entertaining way to consume wrestling.
- There are three elite mid-season tournaments that teams can choose to go to in order to meet up with the best competition that you don’t have on your dual schedule. These are CKLV, Midlands, and the Southern Scuffle. Most teams attend only one or maybe two to get their guys quality matches. This season, the Pack will be attending the Southern Scuffle on January 1 & 2. This along with the Collegiate Wrestling Duals should provide our guys with plenty of competitive matches against non-ACC opponents in order to gain valuable experience and seeding points come NCAA bracket selection time.
- Both Virginia Tech & UNC are home duals this year, as expected based on the rotation. These should make for excellent home environments in Reynolds. And a home-mat advantage may be needed to fend off our two biggest hurdles toward another ACC Championship.
The 2021-2022 season is just around the corner and my excitement is starting to ramp up. One final season with Hayden, Tariq, Thomas, and Nick, and this team should be right up there with the best we’ve ever rolled out. Keep your eyes peeled for weight-by-weight previews in the coming weeks.
24 preseasons between the four of us. We all have come a long way since the summer of ‘16. Thank you @pat_popolizio for teaching us the way. Never wearing this uncomfortable shirt ever again though. pic.twitter.com/KVY3mFiz6M— Hayden Hidlay (@Hidlaymania) September 30, 2021
In the meantime, head over to GoPack to purchase your season tickets and enjoy some of the NIL deals our guys were able to secure. This stuff is great!
Also happy to represent Sammy’s Tap & Grill. Absolutely can’t wait for wings on Sunday NFL game days. See you all at Sammy’s!!! pic.twitter.com/0BxuyfeVlq— Hayden Hidlay (@Hidlaymania) August 13, 2021