This past month has been a huge one for Pat Popolizio and the NC State wrestling program. The team capped off an abbreviated 2021 season - which saw them win a third consecutive ACC Tournament title - with a 6th place finish at NCAAs behind four individual All-Americans. And from there, mounds of speculation emerged surrounding who would utilize their extra year of eligibility granted due to effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the weeks rolled on, we started to get our answers...
First came the biggest piece of the puzzle. Hayden Hidlay, a 4x ACC Champion, 4x All-American, and NCAA Finalist took to the Pack Mentality Pop-ins Podcast to discuss his journey at NC State and highlight his emotions following a disappointing NCAAs. He was especially candid and pulled back the curtain on his mental struggles with the sport as well as the physical toll that five years of cutting down to 157 has taken on him. With those points being touched on, HH finally revealed after much anticipation that he would indeed return for his sixth year of eligibility. Except this time he’d be bumping up two weight classes to 174, where he and his brother Trent will form one of the nation’s best 1-2 punches.
A few days after Hayden’s decision became public, the PackWrestle Twitter account broke news that Thomas Bullard would also return for his final season. Thomas had a rough go in 2021 and did not make it onto the podium in St. Louis like his brother Daniel. You’ve got to think that factored into his decision here - can you imagine all of the Thanksgiving dinners he’d have to sit through hearing Daniel brag about how he placed at NCAAs and Thomas didn’t? Thomas will have one last shot to do so, and by returning, he will fill what would have been a huge hole in the Pack lineup.
Back with our Pack ... Thomas Bullard!!! pic.twitter.com/qo59zJ1NiF— NC State Wrestling ♂️ (@PackWrestle) March 29, 2021
To continue the avalanche of fortunate news, the next day it was announced that Tariq Wilson’s hint of a return would come to fruition, and he will be taking a jump up to 149 pounds. The 2x third-place finisher will add another lethal piece to the Pack’s lineup. Tariq has shown that when he’s on, he can compete with anybody in the country, and in his final season he will be a massive contributor on a team in the hunt for a trophy. In addition, his move up in weight will clear the way for some of the younger talent to funnel in at 141.
▶️ 149 ... Tariq Wilson pic.twitter.com/r0kV69kyQR— NC State Wrestling ♂️ (@PackWrestle) March 30, 2021
To cap off the news flurry, it was confirmed that Nick Reenan would also return for his final season of eligibility. The 3x NCAA qualifier still has some unfinished business and although it doesn’t look like he’s returned completely to his old form, it at least appears as if Nick has shaken the injury bug that plagued him for so long. Now that he’s finally healthy, could we see him jump to that All-American level in his final season? If not for a series of unfortunate calls in his opening match against Jacob Warner, we may have seen him make that run in St. Louis. At the very least, Nick’s return gives us more flexibility at 197. I think we were all impressed with Isaac Trumble’s debut in 2021 (he was the only guy to beat Nino Bonaccorsi up until the NCAA Final), but it is clear that the freshman has a few things he can tighten up and a redshirt year may be what he needs to do so. And if a redshirt isn’t in the plans, then let them battle it out again over the course of the season and let the best guy wrestle in March. Regardless, we have two solid options at this weight.
Add another to the 2022 Pack ... Nick Reenan pic.twitter.com/FUVf3MPEKH— NC State Wrestling ♂️ (@PackWrestle) March 31, 2021
This means we will be returning our entire lineup from a 6th place team, with the exception of Daniel Bullard. And with some of the weight changes, it may just open up some spots to further optimize our team. I will go further in-depth with lineup previews in the months leading up to next season, but here is a glimpse at what our batting order could shake out to be:
- 125: Jakob Camacho (R-Jr.)
- 133: Jarrett Trombley (R-Jr.)
- 141: Ryan Jack (So.) -or- Kai Orine (R-So.)
- 149: Tariq Wilson (Covid-Sr.)
- 157: Ed Scott (So.)
- 165: Thomas Bullard (Covid-Sr.)
- 174: Hayden Hidlay (Covid-Sr.)
- 184: Trent Hidlay (R-Jr.)
- 197: Nick Reenan (Covid-Sr.) -or- Isaac Trumble (So.)
- 285: Deonte Wilson (Sr.)
That is a juicy lineup. Camacho will place next season. Trombley was a fringe All-American guy. Ryan Jack and Ed Scott should slot in at their more natural weights. Trent is a returning NCAA finalist. And Tariq, Thomas, Hayden, and Nick bring tons of experience to a squad that is a major contender for a team trophy. Best of all for the returning Covid-seniors, they will hopefully get the chance to perform in front of crowds at Reynolds for the final time and get the send-off that they deserve.
Coach Pop will also add five top-100 recruits to this team in the 2021 class, highlighted by #8 overall recruit Stevo Poulin. I don’t see any of them cracking this lineup, so I would be surprised if the lot of them didn’t redshirt.
Next on the agenda is waiting for a schedule to be announced. We will keep our eyes peeled for that, but I already can’t wait for next season!