Sunday was a day of championships for NC State athletics. The women’s basketball team took home their third straight ACC Tournament title under head coach Wes Moore. And about 7 hours later, Pat Popolizio’s crew won their fourth in a row, by quite a wide margin. These two, along with Swimming & Diving coach Braden Holloway, are absolute gems to the NC State athletic program. Combined they have won 17 ACC Championships since 2015. We are absolutely spoiled by these three this time of year, and there doesn’t look to be an end in sight, especially for PackWrestle.
Our performance was shouldered by seven of our ten guys who advanced to the finals of their respective weight classes. The next closest team was Virginia Tech with five finalists. We also led the way with four individual champions.
The finals began with a banger in the 157-pound weight class as Ed Scott finally got his shot at returning National Champ, Austin O’Connor. AOC sat out of the dual two weeks prior for undisclosed reasons, but on Sunday he had to face the music. And that music was Seek and Destroy by Metallica, Ed’s walkout song. In fact, I encourage you to play it in the background to set the tone for the rest of this article. This has been the freshman’s mantra all year, and he carried it into this top-10 matchup as well. O’Connor slowed Ed down early with his patented front headlock tie, but he would not be deterred - Scott got in deep on a single to end the 1st period but couldn’t quite finish. Then as Ed got his escape to begin the 2nd period, AOC pulled up lame and it became evident that he was dealing with something lingering - possibly what forced him out of the dual. But that revelation was like blood in the water for Ed Scott who turned up the heat and scored the only takedown of the bout to win 3-2. Clearly the injury played a factor in this one, but we will take it. Ed gets his first ACC title and with no unavenged losses (he pinned his only non-teammate loss, Keating, in the semifinals) he looks to be in position for a great seed in Detroit - probably somewhere around the 4-6 range.
At 184, we got to see Trent absolutely batter UNC freshman Gavin Kane for his second ACC title in as many years. And when I say batter, I mean literally. He straight up dunked him in his favorite homemade beer-batter like a nice flaky cod fillet and deep-fried him at 375 for 5-8 minutes until golden brown and crispy.
Tough night to be Gavin Kane, sheesh!!— JR (@TurkeySub42069) March 7, 2022
The 11-0 margin of victory was the largest of the finals and quite impressive over a kid who has beaten Hunter Bolen twice now. It just shows that Trent is on another level this year and he is on the hunt for his NCAA title that was stolen from him last March. In other 184-related news, #2 Myles Amine upset reigning NCAA Champ, #1 Aaron Brooks in the Big Ten Finals, so they now each have a loss and it leaves Trent as the only undefeated conference champ at the weight. Some like me, think this should be enough for the 1-seed in Detroit. Others think this will bump Amine over Trent and leave Hoagie and Brooks as the 2 & 3 to duke it out in the semifinals. We’ll see for sure when brackets come out later this week, but that 1-seed is highly-coveted and it would be massive to avoid those other two until the Finals.
At 197 & heavyweight, Isaac Trumble and Tyrie Houghton each advanced to the Finals but were bested by Nino Bonaccorsi and Nathan Traxler respectively. Bonaccorsi finally figured out the Trumble puzzle, as you would expect an NCAA finalist to do. It’s hard to keep beating a guy like that, but Trumble looked more offensive-minded in this tournament and as of late, so I really like where he’s at going into NCAAs. Tyrie earned the Auto-Qualifier spot for the ACC and thus got the nod from the coaching staff over Owen Trephan, but his performance against the Hokie heavyweight wasn’t as impressive as Big O’s. These two are so close, but they offer different things, so it will be interesting to see how Tyrie’s more defensive style plays out in Detroit.
Prior to Sunday evening, Jakob Camacho was 0-4 in official NCAA competition against Sam Latona. And their meeting just two weeks ago was the least competitive of the lot, so expectations were tempered heading into this matchup, though it was probably the one I wanted the most due to Latona’s post-match antics in Raleigh. But Jakob was obviously not shaken. He came out and wrestled a perfect match, one that more closely resembled their previous ACC Finals meeting. Neither could find that opening. It was a stalemate and looked destined to go to sudden victory, until Jakob struck with 15 seconds remaining in the 3rd and was able to convert the winning takedown at the buzzer.
Man, what a time to pick up such an emotional and satisfying victory. This has got to send Jakob’s confidence into the stratosphere heading into NCAAs, and I’m telling you he is going to be a very dangerous lower seed that nobody wants in their part of the bracket. A Blood Round guy who was ranked top-3 almost all of last year now coming into NCAAs as a 10-15 seed? He has “landmine” written all over him.
At 141, Ryan Jack had himself a heck of a tournament. He opened his first round with a tech fall and then exacted revenge on the 2-seed Kizhan Clarke in the semis. This time around he looked less timid and more calculated. He had several quality attacks, but was finally able to capitalize at the end of regulation to advance to the finals. There, he met top-seeded Cole Matthews of Pitt and it was more of the same. He looked very measured but not scared or unsure like he did previously. He had the best attacks of the match, but was unable to finish cleanly and dropped a close one 3-2. You can see the improvement is coming quickly for RJ, and I hope he carries this momentum into NCAAs. He could be dangerous like his older brother.
In the finale, Tariq Wilson once again dominated the ever-dangerous Bryce Andonian to the tune of a 10-4 decision. There were times early where it looked like Tariq might pay for stepping into Andonian’s wheel-house, but Bryce didn’t look like he was happy with the feel he was getting from Tariq, so he never could capitalize. The rest of the time, it was Tariq finishing attacks and riding on top. There was a scary moment near the end of the 3rd where Tariq collapsed and the collective breath of Wolfpack Nation was being held. Replay revealed that an earlier exchange resulted in a head-on collision into the mat, but after some injury time Tariq was able to continue and close out his second ACC title.
Finals results are below:
- 157: #8 Ed Scott (NCSU) dec. #4 Austin O’Connor (UNC); 3-2
- 165: #15 Jake Wentzel (Pitt) dec. #21 Justin McCoy (UVA); 7-0
- 174: #6 Mekhi Lewis (VT) dec. #8 Clay Lautt (UNC); 4-2
- 184: #3 Trent Hidlay (NCSU) major dec. #23 Gavin Kane (UNC); 11-0
- 197: #8 Nino Bonaccorsi (Pitt) dec. #16 Isaac Trumble (NCSU); 5-2
- 285: #14 Nathan Traxler (VT) dec. #24 Tyrie Houghton (NCSU); 9-6
- 125: #19 Jakob Camacho (NCSU) dec. #20 Sam Latona (VT); 3-1
- 133: #5 Korbin Myers (VT) dec. #9 Micky Phillippi (Pitt); 4-2
- 141: #5 Cole Matthews (Pitt) dec. #20 Ryan Jack (NCSU); 3-2
- 149: #3 Tariq Wilson (NCSU) dec. #8 Bryce Andonian (VT); 10-4
Aside from the seven finalists, the Pack’s three remaining members all took 3rd place. Kai Orine won his opening match against Brian Courtney before falling to eventual champion, Korbin Myers, this time by just a 6-2 decision. He dropped into the consolation bracket and was able to exact his revenge on UNC’s Heilmann in the 3rd-place match. I liked what I saw out of Kai this weekend. His conditioning looked to be in a much better spot and if that is fixed, he is also a dangerous out. He is definitely rounding into postseason form.
At 165, Bullard did not have his best weekend. All of his matches had a 1-0 scoreline, which shows how closely he was playing things. He fell in his semifinal match to Justin McCoy of Virginia, but made a consolation bracket run to take 3rd place. This got him the coveted third and final AQ spot for NCAAs, but it was way too close for comfort. Especially considering the way 165 played out this weekend. A lot of quality guys did not earn AQs at their conference tournaments, leaving a big group vying for 4 AQ spots. If Thomas hadn’t squeaked-out his 3rd place finish, he might not be heading to Detroit. I sure hope he can find that fire for his final tournament, because at this point we’re not looking at any team points from this weight class.
At 174, the unfortunate seeding situation came back to bite us as Hayden fell in the semifinals to Mekhi Lewis. This really should have been a finals matchup, and it was wrestled like it. Mekhi caught Hayden off-balance early and secured a 1st period takedown. From there, he did what he does best: play defense. He backed up, circled, and fought off all of Hayden’s attempts until the final whistle. I wasn’t a big fan of how the referee called stalling, but I won’t get into it. Bottom line is, we all knew this would be a tight match, and surrendering the first takedown put it right where the Hokies wanted it. Hopefully Hayden gets another shot at him before the year is through.
The overall team performance was nearly flawless, and we saw the (re-)emergence of some real All-American contenders in Camacho and Scott. And thankfully, because of the way we performed, we will have ten cracks at the podium, as all of the guys qualified for Detroit. Now we just wait for brackets, which are reportedly coming out on Wednesday afternoon. Doesn’t get better than this. We are fast-approaching the end of the season and the eight month “winter” without college wrestling, let’s drink in every bit of what we have left.