No team will go unrepresented here. Every team in the ACC will send multiple wrestlers to the NCAA's. The ACC continues to showcase its talents and prove to the world that it is indeed a wrestling conference. Now if we could only get Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Syracuse, Boston College, Miami(FL), & Clemson to reinstate their programs...plus Notre Dame to actually use the $1.5 Million Dollar Pat O'Connor endowment (Which equals out to be about $90,000 per year) that was specifically set up for wrestling, FOR wrestling...plus Florida State to officially have varsity wrestling for the first time & for Louisville to have wrestling for the first time ever...then we'd really be in business. I digress on that. Let's take a look at the weight classes.
Now before we do, a little color coding to understand what's going on.
Black = These wrestlers have earned allocations & are expected to be our NCAA qualifiers
Blue = These wrestlers have not earned allocations but stand a chance at either stealing a spot or being one of our at large (Wildcard) selections once the conference tournaments are all said and done.
Our final here is most likely going to be Jakob Camacho of North Carolina State Vs Sam Latona of Virginia. In fact Latona winning it & Camacho taking 2nd is exactly what I'm going to predict. The guy that may have something to worry about here is Pittsburgh's Gage Curry. As of right now he is slated to finish 3rd in the ACC, but he'll have both Spencer Moore of North Carolina and Patrick McCormick of Virginia wanting to steal that spot from him. It took him a tiebreaker to get past Moore & he only slid past McCormick 3-2. Neither Moore or McCormick are going to go to the NCAA's based on the grace of an At-Large/Wild Card selection. They both HAVE TO steal a spot, or they aren't going.
At 133 lbs in the ACC, what you see, is what you get. There are five allocations and these are the five men who will take them. The question is, in what order will they finish? Based on likely seed and the history of results, Korbin Myers of Virginia Tech is likely to be one of our finalists. I would say that there is a good shot at Pittsburgh's Micky Phillippi being in the finals against him, but I'm anxious to see what North Carolina's Joe Heilmann can do at this tournament. Heilmann is one of the most improved wrestlers in the nation. This was a guy that was 14-16 as a true freshman & then 4-4 last season as a redshirt sophomore. He went from getting manhandled by Kai Orine of North Carolina State 15-6, to defeating him 4-2 sudden victory. Not to mention, he also already has a 3-2 victory over Phillippi. All five of these guys deserve to go to the NCAA's this season & all things considered, all five will get to go.
Again what you see is what you get. There are four allocations at 141 lbs in the ACC & these are the four the gentlemen who will taking them. As close as these guys have wrestled one another, it'll be a real treat to see what order they finish in. I can see North Carolina State's Ryan Jack having a standout tournament. He's young, he's hungry & above anything else he has that Jack blood running through his veins. Older brother Kevin wasn't always picked to win, but he often did anyway. It's in his genetic makeup to wrestle well & he very well could here.
I wouldn't put it past Kizhan Clarke to win an ACC title. He's looked exceptionally good this season.
The guy I think will win it though is Pittsburgh's Cole Matthews. I've said for the last two years that all Matthews needed was that one big, significant win to boost his confidence & once he had it, then like the 1988 DeLorean in Back to the Future, we were gonna see some serious shit. That win was an 11-5 decision over Stevan Micic of Michigan & as predicted, Matthews has been on fire ever since. He's been 3rd in the ACC twice before.
I can see Gerardi possibly upsetting Jack, but I think he'll most likely take 4th into the NCAA's.
Here is where things might get interesting. We have four allocations & five wrestlers gunning for them. First and foremost I believe our champion here is going to be Tariq Wilson of North Carolina State. He's proven before & I believe he'll prove again that he is a post season wrestler. He has had a close match with Josh Finesilver of Duke & in eight matches, he even lost to North Carolina's Zach Sherman once. So it isn't a given, but he'll at least be given the #1 seed.
The guy to watch here, is going to be Zach Sherman of North Carolina. His losing record isn't going to do him any favors, but the fact that he remains ranked within the top twenty very well might. I wouldn't at all rely on the at large/wildcard selection, but if he does indeed finish in 5th place, his ranking could possibly be what saves him. He'd be better off to steal a spot though & he's more than capable of it. He took Finesilver into sudden victory the last the two met & he already owns a 6-2 decision over Jared Verkleeren of Virginia. The NCAA only allowed for four At Large/Wildcards in the entire 149 lbs weight class & I can almost guarantee the ACC will be in a fight to get one of them.
There are five allocations here & five quality candidates that have earned them. Is there anyone here that could possibly steal a spot? Yes, and that someone is Duke's Wade Unger. Already with an upset over Virginia Tech's Connor Brady 4-3, he'll need to continue his upsetting ways if he wants to make a trip to the NCAA tournament this year. It's either upset his way to a 5th place showing or higher, or stay home. Not being ranked with a losing record, indicates that an at large selection/wild card is not feasible.
As to the rest of the weight class? I think two time ACC champion Austin O'Connor of North Carolina is in route to win a third title. How I think seeds will go has me convinced that our semi-final here on the other side of the bracket will be Ed Scott of North Carolina State Vs Elijah Cleary of Pittsburgh, which I'll go with Scott. That'll give us a classic Tar Heel Vs Wolfpack final.
Jake Keating of Virginia Vs Cleary I believe will be our consolation final with Brady & Unger battling it out for that precious 5th place slot that still guarantees NCAA qualification. It's rewarding to see Cleary with a clear shot at making the NCAA tournament. He's been at this a long time & has yet to make a trip to the dance. Nothing's guaranteed but things do look good.
I think things are pretty cut and dry here. I think North Carolina State's Thomas Bullard Vs Pittsburgh's Jake Wentzel will be our final with Justin McCoy of Virginia finishing a strong 3rd. Now what is in question, is who wins between Bullard & Wentzel? Bullard has won 3 out of their last 4 meetings & the one win Wentzel has was tiebreaker. Can Bullard keep Wentzel from winning his third title while winning his first? On the same hand Wentzel has that little something extra that all wrestlers wish they had during the post-season. He's hard to beat in those moments we have collaboratively decided "matter."
Somebody help me, this is one tough weight class. We're talking an NCAA champion, an NCAA runner-up & three wrestlers that have won an ACC title. One of them already a four time ACC champ. Can you imagine already owning four conference titles & your fifth title will be your most difficult challenge? That blows my mind, but it is the exact circumstance that North Carolina State's Hayden Hidlay is up against this weekend. All I can say is all four of these guys are more than capable of being on the award stand at the NCAA's.
I was a little surprised but happy to see that the ACC earned five allocations for 184 lbs. I was iffy on whether Gregg Harvey of Pittsburgh would be among the 33, but I am glad to see that he was. I believe the feud between Trent Hidlay of North Carolina State & Hunter Bolen of Virginia Tech will continue as we're destined to see yet another low scoring match between the two unless North Carolina's Gavin Kane might have something to say about that. I wasn't expecting Kane to jump in and essentially fill the spot that brother Devin did & I certainly wasn't expecting him to be even better. Yet thus far, that's exactly what he is. He's manhandled both Harvey & Virginia's Michael Battista and he took Bolen into sudden victory when they met. Speaking of Battista it's rewarding to see him having such a good season & to know that it'll be rewarded with his first trip to the NCAA's.
Since I forgot to include 2021-2022 records in the picture here they are...
This is an interesting case study. A weight class that illustrates why so many say that the sport of wrestling is often a mental game. There are six wrestlers here. Three that have earned the allocations throughout the season that are likely to take them at the ACC tournament & three that in the laws of probability most likely won't, but still could steal those spots. Here's what's most interesting to me.
Kaden Russell of Duke has been beat by everyone in the ACC & in nearly every match that he's wrestled, he's been beaten pretty bad, EXCEPT against Trumble who based on record is likely to be the #1 seed. When Russell pinned Trumble in 44 seconds last season, I chalked it up as a fluke victory, but when they met earlier this season, Russell was in the match the entire time & only lost a 2-1 decision. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see Trumble the #1 seed, with Russell the #6 seed. Virginia Tech's Dakota Howard is likely to be the #5 seed, which pits Howard Vs Russell in R1. Howard has defeated Russell 10-5 but Russell owns a 1:27 fall over him too. If Russell wins this match, then our semi-final is Trumble Vs Russell. Ironically enough, Russell who has been majored, tech'd or in the least beaten by a notable decision by everyone else, is the one guy that thus far has given Trumble fits. Take that for what it's worth.
As to the mental game, Nino Bonaccorsi of Pittsburgh cannot figure out Trumble & Jay Aiello of Virginia cannot figure out Bonaccorsi. When Bonaccorsi wrestles Trumble, he just cannot get any of his offense going. Yet when Aiello wrestled Trumble, he took him into SV. Put Bonaccorsi up against Aiello & suddenly Bonaccorsi becomes a scoring machine where Aiello often only manages escapes. You can't tell me that there isn't something mental going on here.
On paper I think we're looking at a final between Trumble & Bonaccorsi, with Aiello finishing 3rd. Shaw a strong candidate for 4th place, with Howard & Russell duking (pardon the pun) it out for 5th. This begs the question, not automatically earning allocations are any of the three eligible for at large/wild card bids? Shaw & Howard are both ranked within the top 33. That helps but doesn't guarantee anything. Shaw's best wins this season are ironically against Howard & Russell. Howard, pretty much in the same boat, only not as good. Russell's chances I'd say are slim or none, & I'm gonna lead with none. 2021-2022 is an abnormal season because of the extra 5th year. That puts a lot of otherwise would have graduated wrestlers back in the mix & that effects qualification. As a result I think it's still possible Shaw & Howard could get bids to the NCAA's, but I'm gonna wager that this year, they stay home.
You'd think this late in the game we'd know who all of our starters are going to be, but I guess not. According to the report Tyrie Houghton of North Carolina State is who earned the spot, but it is Owen Trephan who has the ranking. I'm not sold on one over the other & I sure haven't seen an official report yet (as of the time this was written) as to who will start. Either one of these guys as far as I'm concerned stands a shot at being an ACC champion. One has not established himself to be clearly better than the other. Hell their last match came down to a tiebreaker. So either way, NC State has themselves a qualifier.
The rest of the weight class displaces a bit of parity. Nathan Traxler of Virginia Tech is another guy that I'd call ACC champion material. Yet he has an odd 4-3 loss to Virginia's Quinn Miller. That particularly sticks out when you take into consideration that Jacob Slinger of Pittsburgh upset Miller 4-1, yet Traxler thumped Slinger 12-0. That's wrestling for you.
As to Slinger can I see him possibly stealing a spot & making the NCAA tournament. I think his chances aren't anywhere near as good as Zach Sherman's but I'd say they're better than most anyone else's who is fighting to steal a spot in the ACC.
While the ACC won't get the love or support that some of the other conferences get, it should. It may only be six teams, but we're talking some really good, quality wrestling at each weight class. It's one to watch & pay attention to.