The 2021 wrestling season was weird, as it was just that. There was no 2020 - the season was abbreviated and began in January rather than the typical November start. Everything was off. Rankings were tumultuous, lineups were ever-changing, and as we had learned from the season before, nothing was guaranteed. However, among all of the chaos and unpredictability, the Pack just kept rolling as usual. NC State put together another impressive season, Popolizio’s ninth at the helm, which culminated in a third consecutive ACC Tournament title and 6th-place finish at the NCAA Tournament. Nothing can stop what is being built in Raleigh, and a return to normalcy will hopefully allow for us to witness it in person.
The 2021-2022 version of NC State wrestling may just be the best yet, so in this three-part preview series we will do a deep-dive into our projected lineup. First up is the lightweights!
Projected Starter: Jakob Camacho (R-So) | 2021 Record: 10-4 | Preseason Ranking: #10
Depth: Stevo Poulin (Fr)
Camacho returns for his third year in the starting lineup, but due to last season being essentially “free” in terms of eligibility, he is officially listed as just a redshirt-sophomore. He has been a key cog in the Pack’s lightweights since his freshman season and is a two-time ACC finalist. Camacho’s 2021 season was like a compilation of “almosts”. He almost clutched up the Virginia Tech dual, but fell in the dying seconds of the deciding match to rival Sam Latona, which gave the Hokies the tiebreaking win over the Pack. He almost got his revenge in the ACC Finals, but was unable to capitalize on many favorable positions and lost to Latona again. And in St. Louis, he almost secured All-American honors on two occasions, but dropped nail-biters in both the quarterfinals and Blood Round to fall one win shy of the podium.
These were his only four losses on the season (10-4) - all coming to All-Americans - and each seemed to be more devastating than the next. You’ve got to wonder what that can do to an athlete’s psyche. But if there’s one thing Camacho isn’t lacking, it’s confidence. You can hear it in his voice when he speaks. This kid is tough, and he is a leader on this team. He will bounce back.
Last year, Camacho spent nearly the entire season ranked in the top-3 of the weight class. This likely won’t be the case again as 125 is one of the deeper weights this year. Iowa’s Spencer Lee is on his way to history, looking to become only the fifth-ever 4x Division I NCAA Champion, and I don’t see anyone stopping him from that feat, barring any injuries. But hey, he won his 3rd title last year on a torn ACL, so maybe not even that can stop him. The kid is ridiculous - he is in a tier by himself.
Spencer Lee just won his 3rd national championship on zero ACLs (tore one of them 8 days ago) because “excuses are for wussies” pic.twitter.com/v4BI2zYqKd— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) March 21, 2021
Behind Spencer are two Ivy League hammers returning from their conference’s opt-out of the 2021 season. Cornell’s Vito Arujau and Princeton’s Pat Glory are maybe the only two guys who can push into Spencer’s tier. These should be the top-3 for the bulk of the season. Below them is a slew of returning All-Americans and contenders, which includes Camacho. It won’t be easy, but I can’t see Jakob missing the podium again this season. He will be a massive part of our lineup regardless, likely hovering in the 5-12 range of the rankings for most of the year, but I believe he gets over the hump in March.
Projected Starter: Jarrett Trombley (R-So) | 2021 Record: 10-6 | Preseason Ranking: #13
Depth: Skylar Smith (Fr)
Trombley is another lightweight returning for his third year in the lineup. He spent the majority of last season fighting off Ryan Jack for his roster spot, and a late-season wrestle-off over the freshman won him the job. He put together a 10-6 record which earned him the #12 seed for NCAAs, but he fell in the Round of 16 after a 2-2 showing. It is being speculated which weight Trombley and Jack will go this season, but I personally feel our optimized lineup has Jarrett at 133 and Ryan at 141. And because of that, Trombley shouldn’t have much trouble locking this spot down.
Hopefully this will free the redshirt-sophomore up to focus on areas for improvement. Don’t get me wrong, Trombley is a solid 15-20 ranked guy in the country as is. He is strong in every position, very athletic, and loves to wrestle a controlled match with his upper-body ties. But unless he can develop some reliable leg attacks and maximize his athleticism by doing so, then he will struggle to breakthrough to the podium, especially with the over-saturation of talent the free year of eligibility has created.
Trombley starts the season ranked 13th by FloWrestling. For reference, Micky Phillippi of Pitt, who Trombley has never beaten and appears to be a tier below, is ranked 10th. If we don’t see improvements in Jarrett’s activity from the feet, it’s looking like another 2-2 or Blood Round finish for us at this weight. And if we have hopes of a team trophy in this year’s crowded field, someone like Trombley is going to have to step up.
Great start to the work week!#PackMentality // #Culture pic.twitter.com/ZQYhnsfWpm— NC State Wrestling ♂️ (@PackWrestle) October 18, 2021
Projected Starter: Ryan Jack (Fr) | 2021 Record: 7-3 | Preseason Ranking: NR
Depth: Kai Orine (R-Fr)
Last year’s ACC Champion and NCAA 3rd-place finisher, Tariq Wilson has decided to return for his sixth and final season. But for his last ride he will bump up to 149, which leaves an opening for some of our exciting young talent to step in. As discussed above, I believe our best team has Ryan Jack manning the 141 spot, so that is what I’m rolling with here. He spent all of last year trying to usurp Trombley from the 133 spot, but ultimately could not win the all-important wrestle-off in February. I don’t believe 133 was the appropriate weight for him, and 141 feels like a better fit, so we should start to see him blossom in 2022. Jack is a former top-50 recruit with a ton of potential and a lot of pundits are high on him.
However, don’t be surprised if Kai Orine makes a valid push for this spot as well. Orine is also a top-50 recruit from the Class of 2019 who went 6-1 last season. He has had some success in his limited college action, including a 4th-place finish at the Southern Scuffle two years ago. We will likely see a rotation between these two guys until one separates himself for the postseason.
See how @kaiorine from @PackWrestle spends some of his free time, taking his talents to the @NCState Free Expression Tunnel. pic.twitter.com/8UlG1IF7HN— NC State Wrestling ♂️ (@PackWrestle) July 29, 2021
Regardless of who we field here we should have a solid option, but this is certainly going to be our most unproven weight and thus expectations should be tempered. As with pretty much every weight class, 141 is deep with All-American threats. I think Jack has the higher ceiling of the two, and if one of them is going to surprise us with a podium finish I would expect it to be him. More realistically, I anticipate an NCAA qualifier and maybe a win or two in Detroit from whichever of these guys is the starter.
That concludes our Lightweight Preview. The success of our season rides a lot on this group. There is inexperience, but also a lot of potential. Stay tuned for next week, where we’ll look at the Middleweights.