Sunday, February 26, 2023

2023 ACC Preview (March 5th)


I have been a collegiate wrestling fan since the 1991-1992 season & I have been following collegiate wrestling to the level some would call a fixation since the 2001-2002 season. In 21 years of following the sport as closely as I have, I can say that indisputably in terms of qualification, 2022-2023 is the absolute toughest it has ever been. For the most part over the years, while there are always good kids that end up staying home, the number of good, quality wrestlers that will not qualify this year will be in abundance. There are only 33 spots available per weight & a hell of a lot more than 33 wrestlers eligible to take them.  We'll start by looking at ACC. 

125 lbs
Spots Available: 2
Contenders: 5 

Virginia Tech's Eddie Ventresca had enough of a challenge just making the varsity lineup as he had to contend with Cooper Flynn all season just to suit up in the burnt orange & Chicago Maroon. Now, he'll contend for his first ACC title & his first NCAA qualification. Among the competition, he owns a 6-2 victory over Jack Wagner of North Carolina & a 8-1 decision over Patrick McCormick of Virginia 

Wagner, has had himself a pretty good season since transferring from Northern Iowa.  20-6 on the season, he owns both a 10-8 s.v. over Colton Camacho of Pittsburgh & a 14-4 major over McCormick.  

Camacho, who was behind Gage Curry last season, will test his skills here at the ACC championships. In order to qualify he'll have to pull off some upsets. He owns both a 14-1 major as well as a 4-2 s.v. over McCormick. 

Jarrett Trombley of North Carolina State could very well end up being our champion, as he owns a 3-1 sudden victory over Ventresca. He also owns an 11-8 victory over Camacho & a 10-2 victory over McCormick.  He is a two time NCAA qualifier. 

Now I know I'm gonna catch Hell from some for including McCormick on this list but here me out.  I'm well aware that not only has he lost to everyone, he's outright gotten his ass handed to him.  Here's the thing. When it comes to the ACC championships, the guy truly understands the meaning of magic. He's somehow or another managed earn NCAA qualifications the past two season.  Now do I see him doing that? It's highly unlikely.  He's most likely going to be seeded where he has to face either the #1 or #2 seed early on. This would mean having to wrestle-back all the way to challenge for true 2nd.  Now that I don't see happening, but McCormick beating someone(s) that annihilated him earlier this season?  Absolutely.  This is a bracket that I cannot see getting once of the four at large wildcards.  It's gonna be champ & runner-up going to the NCAA's & everyone else staying home.  There is no room for error. 

133 lbs
Spots Available: 3
Contenders: 3 

Here I think what is excepted, is what we get.  The three that are slotted for NCAA qualification, will be our NCAA qualifiers. The real question here is, in what order do they finish? 

Sam Latona of Virginia Tech, an NCAA 6th place All American in '21 who was a match shy of his second last year, so far this year owns a 3-1 victory over Orine. 

Micky Phillippi of Pittsburgh, a three time R12'er at the NCAA's & a four time ACC finalist owns a 3-2 tiebreaker over Latona. 

Then we have Kai Orine, a qualifier last season, who owns a 2-1 tiebreaker over Phillippi. 

So take the parity, try & figure out how this one is gonna be seeded & then watch some very close matches to determine who's 1st, who's 2nd & who's 3rd. 

141 lbs 
Spots Available: 4
Contenders: 5 

NCAA title contender Cole Matthews of Pittsburgh has taken on all challengers in the ACC & thus far one by one, he's beaten them all. A 6-2 victory over Tom Crook of Virginia Tech. A 3-2 decision over Lachlan McNeil of North Carolina. A 4-2 decision over Ryan Jack of NCST & a 4-1 decision over Brian Courtney of Virginia. He was 5th at the NCAA's last season. 

Jack an NCAA qualifier in his own right last season, owns both a 2-1 & 8-2 decision over Crook. A 7-5 decision over McNeil & a 4-1 decision over Courtney. 

Both McNeil & Crook are two of the best freshmen that we have seen this season. They are split with one another, as Crook owns a 3-2 decision over McNeil & McNeil owns a 12-3 major decision over Crook. McNeil also owns a 3-1 decision over Jack. 

Lastly even though we already have a Crook in this bracket, we could very well have a thief. Of the four allotments, one of them isn't meant for Virginia. Nevertheless whether it be Dylan Cedeno or Brian Courtney, it's not unfeasible that either one could steal a spot. Courtney after all was R12 down a weight last season. 

149 lbs
Spots Available: 4
Contenders: 5 

Speaking of young talent, ACC 149 lbs sure has some.  Caleb Henson of Virginia Tech has looked very good thus far this season & will contend for a ACC title.  He owns a 6-1 victory over fellow freshman Jackson Arrington of NCST, as well as an 8-4 decision over Jarod Verkleeren of Virginia & a 14-2 major over Tyler Badgett of Pittsburgh. 

Arrington owns both a 10-2 decision over Verkleeren & a 4-0 decision over Badgett. 

Both Zach Sherman of North Carolina & Verkleeren are the seniority within this group. Sherman a four time NCAA qualifier, was 7th in the nation back in '21. I could potentially see him get hot & challenge for the title but I think it's more realistic that he dukes it out with Verkleeren for 3rd. Having beaten the Cavilier in the past, it was Verkleeren who won their last meeting 6-4.  Verkleeren also owns a 5-3 decision Badgett. 

And as to Badgett, other than getting thumped by Henson, he's kept it close with the others. These type of tournaments produce some whacky results. Him stealing a spot, is a possibility. 

157 lbs 
Spots Available: 3
Contenders: 5 

North Carolina's Austin O'Connor is a man on a mission. 3rd in '19 & 8th last season, he was the NCAA champion in 2021. Bet your bottom dollar he's gunning to win title #2 this year. First, he has to win another ACC title. Among the competition, he owns a 23-8 major over Jake Keating of Virginia, an 11-3 major over Bryce Andonian of Virginia Tech & a 3-1 decision over in-state rival Ed Scott of NCST. 

Andonian, a three time NCAA qualifier, was 3rd in the nation last season.  Earlier this season he nearly tech'd both Scott & Dazjon Casto of Pittsburgh.  Defeating the Wolfpack 24-10 & the Panther 14-1. He also pinned Keating in the first period at 1:32. 

Scott's a dangerous wrestler, with as mean of a headlock as I've ever seen. I'd be weary of him & what he's capable of regardless of his seed.  He majored Keating 12-4 & then threw Casto all over the mat with a 20-3 technical fall. 

Now Casto, seems to a fire that has all but burnt out. I'm not sure if he's been hurt this season or what the deal is, but he hasn't been the ball of volley that we were hoping that we would see. Nevertheless he as R12 at the NCAA's last season & he owns a 14-8 victory over Keating. With the talent he'd have to get through to take home a top three finish, it doesn't seem likely.  It is possible though. 

Also keep in mind that Keating is a two time NCAA qualifier. He's not the kind of wrestler you want to turn your back on or overlook. Upsets will happen this tournament & he's capable of being someone to pull them off. 

165 lbs
Spots Available: 3
Contenders: 4 

There are so few at large/wildcards available. I don't know if it will go here, but I can say that I do feel it's a very strong possibility that it would be needed here. You have three spots & four guys going after them.  

Connor Brady of Virginia Tech is the odd man out at this point, but him avenging any of the close losses he has had, is a very real possibility.  He lost a nosehair dogfight to Justin McCoy of Virginia 5-4 & then another close one to Matty Singleton of NCST 5-3 s.v. Holden Heller of Pittsburgh defeated him 2-0.  None of these scores, indicate to me that Brady couldn't avenge. 

Heller looks to be our forerunner for champion, as he also owns a 9-3 decision over McCoy & a 5-2 decision over Singleton.  

I wouldn't count our McCoy quite yet though as far as title talks are concerned. He's a three time NCAA qualifier & R12 last season. 

174 lbs
Spots Available: 3
Contenders: 5 

Well one of these three spots is already spoken for & that's the spot right at the top. That's going to 2019 NCAA champion/2022 NCAA runner-up Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech. He owns a 8-2 decision over Alex Faison of NCST, a 14-4 major over Luca Augustine of Pittsburgh & he pinned Vic Marcelli of Virginia in 6:07. 

Clay Lautt of North Carolina an 8th place All American last season & R12 in '21, is gonna have avenge some losses just to make it back to the NCAA's this year.  He lost a 6-1 decision to Faison & then a 2-1 tiebreaker to Augustine. He also barely got past Marcelli in a 2-0 effort.  Luckily for him, during the post season he usually goes into full gear. Avenging these losses to a runner-up finish, is a prediction one can feel safe making. 

Faison won in overtime the last he met with Augustine, 3-1.  Augustine owns a 4-1 victory over Marcelli.   

We have five talented grapplers here & only three of them are going to the NCAA's. 

184 lbs
Spots Available: 5
 Contenders: 5 

Take a load off. Relax. This is the one weight class in all of NCAA DI wrestling, barring a huge unlikely upset, everyone that should qualify will qualify.  The ACC has 5 allotments & 5 guys to take them.  The question is, in what order will they finish. 

An NCAA runner-up in '21 & 5th this past season, our likely champion seems to be Trent Hidlay of North Carolina State.  He has a 21-9 major over Neil Antrassian of Virginia & a 9-5 decision over Reece Heller of Pittsburgh.  However, he did need overtime to get past Hunter Bolen of Virginia Tech in a 5-3 decision. 

Bolen a four time NCAA qualifier, 7th in '21 has looked pretty sharp this season & will challenge Hidlay for the title.  He does have an odd 4:32 loss by fall to Heller, but he's defeated both Antrassian (9-5) & Gavin Kane of North Carolina (6-0). 

Kane, an NCAA qualifier last season has a 6-3 decision over Heller as well as two victories (6-4 & 6-3) over Antrassian. 

Lastly, Antrassian owns a 8-3 decision over Heller. 

Gonna be a good semi, a good final, a good consolation semi & a good consolation final. Great thing about it is, all talents here we already know are headed to the NCAA's. 

197 lbs 
Spots Available: 4
Contenders: 5 

Four time NCAA qualifier Nino Bonaccorsi was 2nd in the nation back in 2021, finishing R12 in both '19 & '22.  He's on track to relive the moment of glory at the NCAA's, but first he must look to earn glory at the ACC's.  "So far, so good"  as Bryan Adams would say, he's undefeated against the competition.  A 7-4 decision over Michael Battista of Virginia, he defeated Max Shaw of North Carolina 8-2 & Andy Smith of Virginia Tech 3-1.  His toughest challenge here, will be 2022 NCAA qualifier Isaac Trumble of North Carolina State, who he defeated 6-4 in a tiebreaker earlier this season. 

Trumble, has 3-1 decisions over both Battista & Shaw. 

Smith is one of the most improved wrestlers in the nation.  A losing record two seasons ago, last year he split time with Dakota Howard. This season, he more than cemented himself into the starting spot.  Against the conference he owns a very impressive 3-2 decision over Trumble & a 3-1 s.v. over Battista, who in his own right was an NCAA qualifier last season. 

The odd man out here is Max Shaw, but as you can see, he kept things close with Trumble & the idea of him upsetting Smith or Battista isn't all that far fetched either. He was after all an NCAA qualifier in '21. 

Spots Available: 3
Contenders: 5 

Much like Ventresca at 125 lbs, Owen Trephan of North Carolina State had to earn his spot on the team as he was challenged by Tyrie Houghton all season long.  Now he will challenge for an ACC title. Among the competition, he owns a 3-1 victory over Hunter Catka of Virginia Tech & a 17-6 major over Brandon Whitman of North Carolina. 

I spoke earlier of how Andy Smith of Virginia Tech is one of the most improved wrestlers in the nation. Well the most improved wrestler in the nation may very well be Duke's Jonah Niesenbaum.  I've spoke about this in articles before, but you can't ignore that in his first year as a Blue Devil he was 3-21.  Then in his second year he was 1-5. Even in his third year, while a respectable 16-11, he was nothing compared to where he is now.  COVID-19 granted an extra year of eligibility, so the big man is still technically a junior, as he carries a 23-3 record as a serious threat to the ACC title. In the slump that they are in, Duke could really use something positive on a grand scale and this would be it. Niesenbaum so far has a 5-3 decision over Jacob Slinger of Pittsburgh as he's defeated by Catka & Whitman by 3-1 s.v. decisions. 

Catka an NCAA qualifier in '21 owns a 6-2 decision over Whitman. 

Slinger & Whitman are both the odd men out in this bracket. The issue with Slinger is that he split time with Dayton Pitzer before Pitzer decided to redshirt the remainder of his season.  Otherwise it's not difficult to imagine that Slinger had he had the entire season, may have earned an allotment. Whitman an NCAA qualifier all the way back in '19, will have to pull off some pretty huge upsets if he wants to make trip #2.  As said by O-Town, "It's now or never." 


That's my take on the 2023 ACC.  I think it's a game of wrestle your ass off and earn that qualification spot. I would under no circumstances whatsoever have it in the back of your head that you're likely to earn an at large/wildcard bid, so I would not go that route. Now's not the time to get upset, now's not the time to be thinking ahead to the NCAA's. Now's the time to have a focus on the ACC's and simply making it out. 

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