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PackWrestle conclude 2022 season with 10th place finish at NCAAs

Syndication: The Des Moines Register
Hayden Hidlay celebrates a 3rd place finish in his final wrestling match
Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

Pat Popolizio and the NC State wrestling team had a magical season that included a sweep of the ACC Dual & Tournament titles and a top-10 ranking throughout the campaign. But when they hit Detroit, results just didn’t come in the same fashion we had seen all year, which goes to show how brutal and unforgiving this sport can be. Based on seeds we were poised to take 5th place, and with some bonus points or an overperformance or two, sliding up into a team trophy spot would have surprised no one.

The tournament started off okay, we advanced all ten guys to Day 2 and had the third most bonus points (9.5) through the first day of action. But Sessions 3 & 4 on Friday were absolutely brutal - our team record on Day 2 was 6-12, which just isn’t going to cut it. These are the most important rounds of the tournament and we collapsed. This is where the best teams like Penn State (12-4) & Michigan (12-8) separate themselves from the rest. That left us in a deep hole with no finalists and only three All-Americans, which is never going to be enough to get a trophy, especially in this year’s talent-dense field.

Despite the horrors of Friday, we really didn’t look good at all throughout the tournament. Even in matches we won, guys were barely hanging on or were not nearly as dominant as we had become accustomed to. We noted it on Thursday and hoped for a turnaround that never came. Rumors were confirmed of an illness that at the very least affected Trent Hidlay, who showed a ton of heart all weekend. It was clear from his very first match that something was up with him, but he still gutted out a 5th place finish. It’s unclear if this bug made it to the rest of the team, but aside from Hayden Hidlay, the entire squad just did not look like the machine we had seen all year.

Our individual finishes are below:

  • 125: Camacho - R16 (2-2)
  • 133: Orine - R16 (2-2)
  • 141: Jack - R16 (2-2)
  • 149: Tariq - 7th
  • 157: Scott - Blood Round (2-2)
  • 165: Bullard - 1-2
  • 174: H. Hidlay - 3rd
  • 184: T. Hidlay - 5th
  • 197: Trumble - 1-2
  • 285: Houghton - 1-2

What stands out to me is 125 & 197: Camacho & Trumble. Going into this tournament, we were looking at these two as our darkhorses who would determine the success of the team: if they could get onto the podium, so could the team. If not, then it would be an uphill battle. They clearly didn’t have the tournament we were hoping for, but I don’t think anyone expected neither to even make the Blood Round. Granted, they were both in probably the two deepest brackets. Camacho’s path was not favorable, having to go through eventual runner-up Pat Glory, but I thought he should have been able to make a better backside run than he did. I think we all believe Jakob can be on that title contending level, but there’s something holding him back. I think he does have a lingering knee issue dating back more than a year, so maybe he can get that fixed in the offseason, but he will also need to step it up in other ways because this weight does not get any easier in the foreseeable future. Sure Nick Suriano graduates, but in steps Spencer Lee to take his place. And just about everyone else is returning.

At 197, I thought Isaac had a nice path through #2 Buchanan but he unfortunately didn’t even make it to him because he fell first round. He did earn us some nice team points with a pin in his next consolation match, but then ran into familiar opponent Jay Aiello, who edged him out with a late reversal and knocked riding time down to 59 seconds. Isaac clearly has potential moving forward, but he is going to have to expand his neutral offense. We saw him revert back to primarily upper body attacks in this tournament, and that isn’t going to be enough in the rigors of the world’s toughest tournament. And similar to 125, this weight won’t be thinning out anytime soon. Most of the top guys will be back next year, plus we will see the return of AJ Ferrari.

Our freshmen had a tough time, but represented themselves pretty well. Orine, Jack, and Ed Scott all showed glimpses and I expect them to take steps forward next year to approach the podium. For Ed, he was one win away on two occasions from being an All-American. Unfortunately for him, he ran into Ref #6, who was a hot topic for the duration of this tournament. (I’m serious, search ‘Ref 6’ on Twitter.) This clown called the most ridiculous pin I’ve ever seen in Ed’s Blood Round match to become an All-American. Really shameful stuff. Check it out below:

It sucks for Ed to once again have his season cut short on a shocking decision, but I expect it will only motivate him moving forward. If he can expand his game beyond his Ed-lock and fireman’s dump, he will surely be on the podium next year.

On the positive side, we did get three guys to finish as All-Americans. Two of which were sixth-year seniors who outfitted the Pack singlet for the final time. Tariq took 7th place in a tournament that he did not wrestle his best. I think we were all hoping for a Finals run from The Freak, but he ran into some tough kids and that’s the way it goes sometimes. Regardless, he ended his career on a win, of which he now has over 100, and will surely be remembered as one of our favorites to watch.

As stated above, Trent Hidlay was dealing with an illness this week that had him puking in his spare time off the mat. And he still managed to take the National Champ, Aaron Brooks, to overtime in their semifinals match. I am still convinced that Trent is the best guy at this weight, which is why it’s such a shame that he had to be hamstrung by sickness in the most important week of the year. He also took a loss to Parker Keckeisen on the backside, which will undoubtedly hurt his seed next year if he doesn’t get the chance at revenge during the regular season. Just super unlucky, but this kid does not accept excuses. He will be back and better than ever next season, and I would bet a lot of money that he sits on the top of the podium when it’s all said and done.

Our highest place-winner was Hayden Hidlay, who took 3rd at the most top-heavy weight in the country. Hayden advanced to the semifinals by beating long-time rival, Michal Kemerer in the quarters. There he ran into the beast that is two-time NCAA Champ, Carter Starocci. This was the first time that I really accepted that Hayden’s two weight-class jump was a little too much to handle. Starocci is as talented as they come, but the size advantage he had over Hayden was insane.

We may not have gotten the storybook ending that we feel HH deserved by winning a National title in his final match in a Wolfpack singlet, but he still battled back for 3rd and took out Kemerer twice in the process. I think that will serve as pretty solid consolation for him and his family.

Hayden has been an absolute gem for our program and university. The kid just oozes class. On the mat and off. I’m so thankful that he chose our humble university 452.2 miles away from his home to represent for the last six years. It has been an honor to watch him grow and excel at this most amazing sport. There isn’t a guy more respected across the wrestling community than HH, and he is Pack ‘til he dies. That’s pretty cool.

Now we head into the offseason, where for the first time in a long time, we have some pretty big holes to fill. Luckily, Pat Pop isn’t going anywhere and I trust that he will get us back into a position to make some noise on the mat. We have likely the #2 recruiting class coming in this summer, but to allow them some time to adjust to wrestling at the college level, I think we may be hitting the transfer market to fill some immediate needs. We’ll keep an eye on all of that as it happens, but for now let’s regroup and get ready for freestyle season.