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PackWrestle places 6th at NCAAs with four individual All-Americans

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2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Pat Popolizio and the NC State wrestling team went to St. Louis this weekend looking for the program’s second-ever team trophy (top-4 finish) at nationals. After three days of grinding action, they ultimately fell just short of that goal, taking 6th place. Expectations were high for this team - they returned every starter from the 2019-2020 squad, and had an excellent, albeit shortened, regular season that culminated with their third consecutive ACC Tournament title. That impressive campaign positioned them for a 3rd place finish at NCAAs if they could wrestle to their seeds. Unfortunately, too many little things seemed not to fall in the Pack’s favor at Enterprise Arena. And that was just enough to push us out of the trophy race, 1 point behind 5th place Michigan, and 6 points short of 4th place Arizona State.

In the end, the Pack did get four guys onto the podium for All-American honors (top-8 at their weight class), tying a program record. See where our guys finished below:

  • 125: Camacho - 2-2 (DNP - Blood Round)
  • 133: Trombley - 2-2 (DNP - Round of 16)
  • 141: T. Wilson - 4th
  • 157: H. Hidlay - 5th
  • 165: T. Bullard - 2-2 (DNP - Round of 16)
  • 174: D. Bullard - 7th
  • 184: T. Hidlay - 2nd
  • 197: Reenan - 0-2 (DNP)
  • 285: D. Wilson - 1-2 (DNP)

Daniel Bullard had a great weekend. He won his first two matches, making it to the quarterfinals where he ran into 1-seed Michael Kemerer. He dropped down to the Blood Round after that loss and took out Campbell’s Austin Murphy for his first All-American honors. His only two losses on the weekend were to the guys who ended up placing 2nd & 3rd. Considering Daniel made it known that this was his last ride, his 7th place finish is one of my highlights of the season. A great kid capped off his career in the right fashion and that just makes your heart warm.

At 157, probably one of the biggest shocks of the tournament was Hayden Hidlay slipping all the way to 5th place. He bonused his way to the semis where he fell to eventual-champion David Carr of Iowa State. In his next match, he uncharacteristically got down big against Jacori Teemer of Iowa State - after the first period it was 14-3 and that would prove too much to claw back from as he fell 18-12 and into the 5th place match. He would win that bout and become NC State’s first-ever 4-time All-American, and seemed to explode with emotion afterward.

This is an amazing accomplishment, despite the immediate disappointment Hayden surely feels. He has been a staple for our program the last five years and has shouldered most of the burden in elevating us to the elite of college wrestling. It’s easy to read into his post-tournament emotion and think he could call it a career, but out of respect for Hayden and what he has done for NC State, I have decided not to speculate. He has given this university his all for the past five years, if he doesn’t have anything more to give us, I can accept that. He will go down as a legend of NC State wrestling, and is without a doubt on the Mount Rushmore. He has led by example, excelled at the highest levels of sport, and been a great ambassador for our university both on and off the mat, even during the most challenging times. He epitomizes class, hard-work, and perseverance - characteristics that the Wolfpack is built upon - and for that reason, he is my favorite NC State athlete of all-time.

Now Hayden will likely take some time and make a thoughtful decision about his future, and we will wait until that determination is made. He has another year if he wants it, and surely a spot in Raleigh with his name on it, should he decide to do so.

A similar story could be told for senior Tariq Wilson. Tariq came to Raleigh as part of the heralded 2016 recruiting class that included Hayden. Since then, he has earned All-American honors three times - his third this weekend where he took 3rd place. Tariq had another extremely impressive tournament - reminiscent of his 3rd place run in Cleveland in 2018 - where he compiled perhaps one of the tournament’s most impressive resumes with wins over Courtney, Woods, Red, and finally Sebastian Rivera by major for 3rd.

Tariq was electric and a bad pin call away from possibly making the finals. This is the guy we love to see, and we may just get some more of him. In a post-tournament interview on ESPN, Tariq was questioned about whether or not he would come back for another season, to which he sheepishly replied, “We’ll have to see about that. Still to be determined.” Tariq the Freak back for more? Sign me up! Regardless of his decision, it has been a pleasure to watch his NC State career. He blossomed from a relatively overlooked recruit to a household name because of his home-run style and attitude and that will be his legacy.

Our final All-American was Trent Hidlay at 184, who made it to the finals before falling in controversial fashion to Penn State’s Aaron Brooks. Trent looked awesome all tournament and guys just could not figure out how to break through his head-hands defense. In the final, Hidlay and Brooks did a lot of feeling out. These two are very familiar with one another - they wrestled in the finals of Fargo back in 2017 and were teammates on the 2019 Junior World team. This familiarity led to a long stand-off with only a handful of cautious attacks - most of which came from Trent. But Brooks controlled the center and that caused Trent to get hit with stalling early. His second warning came with 50 seconds left in the 3rd period and gave Brooks a 3-2 lead. From there, it was a frantic finish as Trent searched for the winning takedown, and with about 30 seconds left he got in on Brooks’ leg. Brooks kicked out of bounds and grabbed onto the edge of the mat to prevent Trent from dragging him back in. However, Trent was too powerful and got Brooks back in for what appeared to be 2 points. It was reviewed and somehow, neither the takedown nor the mat grab (which is a blatant penalty and should have awarded Trent 1 point for “fleeing the mat”) were given, so Trent lost 3-2.

There is so much to be upset about here, but to review the above and not come up with either a fleeing the mat or a takedown is just horrendous to me. It’s one or the other. And secondly, for the ref to essentially decide the match with a questionable stall call at best, is really shameful. There was some really bad officiating this weekend, and NC State seemed to be on the butt-end of a lot of it. We will get into that more below, but it should be stated that Trent would not have wanted to win under questionable circumstances. He will take this as a lesson and come back better for it, I’m sure. He still has 2 (or 3) more years in Raleigh and I am confident we’ll see him back up on that stage before that’s over.

Outside of the four who placed, we had a few guys that I think had more to give if circumstances were different. Camacho, Trombley, Thomas Bullard, and Deonte Wilson were all in the hunt to place, but it’s the national tournament and crazy things happen. If just one of those guys gets onto the podium, we may be looking at a team trophy. There were lots of ‘ifs’ for me this weekend, but at the top of that list is the officiating. It simply has to get better, and the Pack seemed to be on the wrong side of a lot of the big calls. Like the stall calls in Trent’s final, when in his quarterfinal and semifinal matches he didn’t get those calls - it was just too inconsistent. Or how can you call this a pin...

when this is not...

but then this is...

Reenan had that locked up and who knows what he can do if he gets past the 5-seed in the first round. But it just seemed like the big boy programs got all the calls, and the little guy got screwed. The inconsistency was just so bad and needs to be cleaned up.

In all, the Pack missed their ultimate goal of a team trophy, and I’m sure that stings. But there is still a lot to be proud of from this season. A third consecutive ACC Tournament title is nothing to scoff at. Four All-Americans ties a program record and looks to be a bar we are starting to set. And a 6th place finish at NCAAs marks the second-best in program history. All of that, and there was still room for improvement. You can bet that the staff is eager to get back in the room and gear up for next year. There is still a lot in the air in terms of guys that could potentially come back, so the roster outlook is a little foggy, but Pop always gets us to a competitive baseline, and I expect nothing less in the 2021-2022 season. I just hope fans can get back into Reynolds to support these guys. I think there is a lot of momentum with NC State wrestling, and seeing fan turnout after a year off is something I’m eager to observe.