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Five Champs lead PackWrestle to 3rd consecutive ACC title

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NC State claims their 3rd straight ACC Championship inside their home arena
Andy Mead/ACC

NC State wrestling continues to be on a heater when it comes to the ACC Tournament. For the third year in a row, the Pack showed they are the class of the conference and took home (not really since the event was held in Reynolds) the team title. This marks the 4th ACC Championship of Pat Popolizio’s nine-year tenure in Raleigh, which is remarkable considering where the program was prior to his arrival. The home team led the league with five individual champions, and turned in the most dominant conference performance in recent memory.

To set the stage for a dramatic finish, it was decided that the Finals would start at 133 and end with the Camacho-Latona rematch at 125. They were probably also hoping Virginia Tech could make up some ground and have that last match decide the team race as well, but it wasn’t to be. The Pack entered the Finals with a 13-point lead over the Hokies, and their stunning performance only inflated the chasm between the two rivals.

The first of five titles came at 141, where Tariq Wilson widened the gap with a 10-1 major decision against UNC’s Zach Sherman. The last several meetings between these two, including last year’s ACC Final, have been nail biters, but Tariq looked dialed-in and unstoppable in his offense when he decided to attack. He planted Sherman on his back twice for back points and never really looked threatened on the way to his first ACC title. That makes a perfect 9-0 record on the year, with a conference championship, and seven ranked wins for The Freak. Many prognosticators believe this could be good enough for the 2-seed at NCAAs, pending what happens at next weekend’s Big Ten tournament. Regardless, Tariq has set himself up well for a postseason run in St. Louis.

At 157, Hayden Hidlay took the mat for his fourth ACC Final to face his toughest opponent from the regular season in Virginia’s Justin McCoy. Their meeting in Charlottesville began with McCoy securing the opening takedown, but Hayden would proceed to come back for a 6-3 decision. Their rematch in last night’s Finals could not have gone any differently. Hayden came out firing early and often and took home his fourth ACC title via 12-3 major decision. The Mug Dog was utterly dominant and showed that he’s peaking into postseason form.

The 174 final was another rematch from last year’s championship match with Daniel Bullard taking on UNC’s Clay Lautt. Bullard surrendered the only takedown of regulation, but the threat of his top game forced Lautt to choose neutral and forego his escape point. Daniel did not have the same fear, and was able to get his escape in the third period to tie the score at 2. In sudden victory, Bullard was able to scramble his way to the winning takedown for his first ACC title. This caps off an 8-1 season, and sets Daniel up for a strong seed at NCAAs. He was #8 in the last Coaches Rankings and finishes with a conference title - I would expect he will be 8 or higher based on that.

The 184-pound final had the eyes of the college wrestling world on it, as Trent Hidlay faced off with his bitter rival, and #1 in the country, Hunter Bolen. Once again, Trent looked to be the aggressor, getting in deep on several shots and narrowly missing out on these scores. As has been the case in most of their meetings, we ended regulation without a takedown - the two traded escapes and headed to sudden victory overtime with a 1-1 score. This was the most comfortable I had felt in the duration of their rivalry - Trent’s demeanor was that of a man who would not be denied again and it never felt like he would. He pushed the pace the entire match and the fruits of his labor came to bear as he countered a tired Bolen shot with is patented underhook and drove across to collect the far ankle for the winning takedown.

Cue celebration. Flexing. Roof raising. Even a little air guitar. The only thing missing was hoagies falling from the ceiling.

In the heavyweight final, Deonte Wilson faced a new opponent in Virginia Tech’s Hunter Catka. The Hokies swapped the blue-chip recruit in for Borst a couple days before the tournament, and it paid off as the freshman was able to advance past Virginia’s Quinn Miller and into the finals. But Chef D was too much for him. Wilson’s recipe has worked all season long and he was able to serve up his signature dish in tiebreaker rideouts. If he can be stingy on his feet, push the pace, and put a tough ride on his opponents, Deonte could make some noise in St. Louis. I will be curious to see where the committee will seed him, as he is undefeated, a conference champ, and has three ranked wins. However, none of those are over guys in the top-15, so that may limit how high he can go.

In the closing match of the night, Jakob Camacho had his shot at revenge against Sam Latona. The two spent the opening period feeling each other out without too many committed attacks. But from there, Camacho appeared to push the action and created several quality scoring opportunities. Unfortunately, he was unable to cash in and the match ended up going to overtime tied 1-1. Neither guy could score again despite loads of action, including a thrilling scramble to end the 1-minute sudden victory period. In rideouts, Latona was able to escape pretty quickly, and then clung on to ride Camacho for the duration of the second 0:30 period for the 2-1 victory. This rivalry is almost turning into Bolen-Hidlay 2.0. And it’s very possible that these two could hit again at NCAAs. If that were the case, I would have to lean towards Camacho. He just looked like the better guy last night and couldn’t quite pull it out.

The Pack went 5 for 6 in the finals, and also did work on the backside of the bracket. Trombley & Bullard both fell in their opening matches, but battled back to make the 3rd Place match and earn NCAA bids - Thomas ended up getting his sweet, sweet revenge over Monday for bronze. Kennedy must now hope for a wildcard selection.

Ed Scott & Nick Reenan both fell in their 3rd Place bouts and one spot shy of earning an AQ. They are now both hoping for at-large bids from the selection committee, and both are what I would consider “on the bubble”.

In all, NC State had a top-4 finish at every weight, and qualified eight guys for St. Louis. This strong showing amounted to a blowout on the team scoreboard. The final margin over second place Virginia Tech was 24 points, which is more than the equivalent of 2 Champions. So despite VT missing their star in Mekhi Lewis, who sat out due to injury, the reigning NCAA Champ would not have been able to make up the difference.

Placers

  • 125: Camacho – 2nd
  • 133: Trombley – 4th
  • 141: T. Wilson – 1st
  • 149: Scott – 4th
  • 157: H. Hidlay – 1st
  • 165: T. Bullard – 3rd
  • 174: D. Bullard – 1st
  • 184: T. Hidlay – 1st
  • 197: Reenan – 4th
  • 285: D. Wilson – 1st

*bold indicates placement earned an NCAA automatic bid

Completed brackets available here.

This marks the conclusion of the ACC season, which was once again full of intrigue, drama, and electricity. Many around the country are starting to give the conference, though small, the credit it deserves as the second-best conference to the Big Ten.

Now we wait for the remaining conference tournaments to conclude next weekend so we can gear up for NCAAs. The brackets will be released during the Selection Show on Wednesday, March 10th at 6PM. We’ll cross our fingers for Ed & Nick to try and make it an even ten national qualifiers.