NC State 141 lber Ryan Jack (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
It's hard to believe that we've already reached the halfway point in the season and we are only a couple weeks away from ACC Friday Night Duals. It has been a wild season already, but the good news is that there is still a ton of wrestling ahead of us. Let's take a quick look at some of the highlights from early action and see where all the ACC teams are sitting as we move into conference duals.
Dual Record: 3-4
Remaining non-conference opponents: Central Michigan, Appalachian State, Gardner-Webb
The Blue Devils have relied heavily on young starters in the lineup and they have gone through some growing pains. They have shifted multiple starters throughout, but seem to be settling in on their optimal lineup. As expected, they have been led by Jonah Neisenbaum who had a 12-1 record going into the Southern Scuffle. He had a solid showing in Chattanooga, making it to the semifinals before ultimately placing fifth and moving his season record to 16-3. He has ranked wins over Konnor Doucet, Garrett Joles, Hunter Catka and Ben Goldin and he took the title at both the Keystone Classic and the Battle at the Citadel. Also holding winning records for Duke are Jared Papscy (8-8), Patrick Rowland (11-8) Gaetano Console (5-5) and Vince Baker (3-3).
#22 Jonah Neisenbaum-285
Pittsburgh: #6 Tournament #19 Dual
Dual Record: 5-1
Remaining non-conference opponents: West Virginia, Buffalo, Iowa State
The Panthers have been impressive on many fronts during the first half of the season. After a close early-season loss to Maryland, Pitt went on a four-dual winning streak which included victories over ranked opponents Lehigh and Illinois. They also showed their tournament power at the Midlands, even without sending their full starting lineup. The Panthers tied for 2nd as a team and had individual titles from Cole Matthews and Reece Heller. They added an impressive runner-up finish from true freshman Dayton Pitzer who beat four ranked opponents, including NCAA finalist Cohlton Schultz, on his way to the finals. Also placing for the Panthers were true freshman Mac Stout (4th at 197), Tyler Badgett (5th at 149), Ryan Michaels (6th at 141) and Luca Augustine (6th at 174). This tournament highlighted both the talent in the starting lineup and the impressive recruiting that Coach Gavin has done. It also brings up potential changes to the starting lineup--it's hard to ignore the success that Dayton Pitzer has had in his opportunities as a starter and he has shown that he can immediately be a contender in the ACC and nationally.
Pitt has been led by Cole Matthews and Nino Bonaccorsi who both remain undefeated on the season. They have also had an immediate impact from transfers Holden and Reece Heller, both of whom have multiple ranked wins. Micky Phillippi continues his success and is an All-American threat, as always, and sophomore Tyler Badgett has gotten off to a solid 13-5 start to the season. The Panthers are going to make a push to be at the top of the ACC, and if they continue the success they've been having, they have the potential to knock off the top dogs in the conference.
#7 Micky Phillippi-133
#1 Cole Matthews-141
#25 Tyler Badgett-149
#28 Holden Heller-165
#14 Reece Heller-184
#5 Dayton Pitzer-285
North Carolina: #23 Tournament #25 Dual
Dual Record: 2-5
Remaining non-conference opponents: Penn, Harvard, Brown
The Tar Heels again started the season with a grueling dual schedule facing four top-10 teams in the first half of the season. Also adding to the difficulty for UNC was having NCAA Champ Austin O'Connor out until late December, and still having All-American Zach Sherman out due to injury. Coach Coleman Scott has designed their dual schedule to give them the toughest competition possible in order to prepare the team for ACC duals and the postseason; their record of producing All-Americans has shown that this approach has worked for the Tar Heels, even if it doesn't result in the optimal out-of-conference dual record.
There have been several bright spots for the Tar Heels including a win over Campbell at the Battle at Bragg in a unique setting, followed by hosting Michigan at Doubles on the Diamond. They have been led by All-American Clay Lautt who is 5-2 on the year and will benefit from the full-time return of O'Connor, who is off to a 2-0 start. Jack Wagner has been off to a great start since his transfer and is 8-4 on the year manning the lowest weight. Gavin Kane and Max Shaw have both gotten off to 7-4 starts, with losses to highly ranked opponents; they will both play a big role in the success of the team as a whole during ACC competition and will need to be at the top of their game. Lachlan McNeil seems to be settling in at 141 and will be battling to get to the top of the ACC.
The biggest question marks for the Tar Heels are at 133 and 165. Joey Melendez and Jaime Hernandez have both gotten starts at 133, while Nick Fea and Joey Mazzara have seen time at 165. It will also be worth watching at heavyweight if UNC sticks with Brandon Whitman or opts for Aydin Guttridge, who saw action against Cornell and at the Midlands. I am excited to see how the Tar Heels perform at full strength on the back half of the season. If they are able to have all of their top guys in the same lineup, they are a very dangerous team.
#33 Jack Wagner-125
#30 Joey Melendez-133
#21 Lachlan McNeil-141
#4 Austin O'Connor-157
#9 Clay Lautt-174
#17 Gavin Kane-184
#33 Max Shaw-197
North Carolina State: #13 Tournament #6 Dual
Dual Record: 8-0
Remaining non-conference opponents: Binghamton, Army
There were questions about the NC State lineup coming into the season and while there are still a couple weights where they are working out the full-time starter, they have shown they have the depth of talent to win with whoever is in the starting spot. It could be argued that the Wolfpack have had the best first half of the season out of any team in the country. They have six wins over ranked teams, highlighted by winning their pool at the National Collegiate Duals and earning runner-up honors at a very tough Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational. Individually, every starter has a winning record and seven of them have 10 or more wins on the season. Ryan Jack (13-1), Trent Hidlay (12-1) and Isaac Trumble (12-1) have the highest winning percentages, while true freshman Jackson Arrington (13-5) and Owen Trephan (13-3) have also notched 13 wins.
Trent Hidlay has looked fantastic all season--his only loss is to Parker Keckeisen, who he beat at CKLV. Isaac Trumble seems to be at the top of his game--he has notched multiple top-ranked wins and took home the title at CKLV. I have been incredibly impressed with the growth of Ryan Jack. He has been much more aggressive on his feet and as dangerous as ever on the mat. Jackson Arrington has made an immediate impact as a true freshman--four of his five losses are to previous All-Americans, and he has continued to improve every match out. After a slower start to begin the season, Ed Scott seems to be back to top form and is a major threat to make the podium.
The Wolfpack have tried out multiple options at both 165 and 174 with varying levels of success. Donald Cates has had some success at 165, and Matty Singleton got the start at Collegiate Duals after moving down from 174. Alex Faison seems to be in the driver's seat at 174, bringing in a 10-4 record and getting the nod at both CKLV and the Collegiate Duals. Brock Delsignore and Joey Milano have both gotten time in the lineup as well.
It seems as though Pat Popolizio and crew are figuring out the lineup they need to reload and work for another ACC title. It will be a fun battle to watch the next couple of months.
#24 Jarrett Trombley-125
#25 Kai Orine-133
#6 Ryan Jack-141
#17 Jackson Arrington-149
#7 Ed Scott-157
#3 Trent Hidlay-184
#7 Isaac Trumble-197
#13 Owen Trephan-285
Dual Record: 2-1
Remaining non-conference opponents: George Mason, Ohio, Navy, Kent State, Maryland, American
The Hoos have had a lighter dual schedule to open the season than in years past, but have still been able to get in some solid competition in tournaments. They started the season with the Southeast Open and the App State Invite, both of which had stellar individual results. They dropped a dual against a very good Northwestern squad and rebounded to beat Queens and Campbell. I highly recommend watching the UVA/Campbell dual, it was a very fun one.
One big story of the season for the Hoos so far has been the success of their true freshmen. Kyle Montaperto, Garrett Grice, Jack Gioffre, Michael Gioffre, Mason Stefanelli, Nick Sanko and Nick Hamilton have all been off to phenomenal starts, and several have utilized the flexibility of the redshirt dates to spend time in the starting lineup. This gives Coach Garland depth and options with the lineup this season and bodes well for the future success for the Hoos.
Justin McCoy and Neil Antrassian lead the team with 11-3 and 15-3 records, respectively. Antrassian has been a great addition for the Hoos after his transfer from Penn. He has been a leader on the mat and in the classroom. He placed 3rd at the Midlands, McCoy joined him on the podium in 5th and Michael Battista (16-6) placed 6th. Jarod Verkleeren has also played a big role for the Cavaliers and checks in with a 13-5 record; fellow senior Jake Keating has been out due to injury but should be back to the lineup soon.
UVA has a very busy second half of the season with six out-of-conference duals--several at the Virginia Duals. I think they will be successful in these duals and it will put them in a good spot going into ACC season, as long as they can stay healthy.
#29 Jarod Verkleeren-149
#23 Jake Keating-157
#14 Justin McCoy-165
#18 Neil Antrassian-184
Virginia Tech #10 Tournament #10 Dual
Dual Record: 3-1
Remaining non-conference opponents: Cornell, American, George Mason, Appalachian State
The Hokies have had a fantastic start to the season, both in dual and tournament settings. They had several placers in both the CKLV and the Keystone Classic. The majority of the lineup went to one or the other, though Sam Latona and Hunter Bolen both won the Keystone Classic and placed at the CKLV.
As expected, they have been led by All-Americans Sam Latona (15-4), Mekhi Lewis (10-1) and Hunter Bolen (13-2). Fellow All-American Bryce Andonian has not yet made his season debut at 157 as he recovers from an injury, but should be back in the lineup for the back half of the season. Connor Brady has been a solid addition moving up to 165 and is climbing up the rankings; Hunter Catka has held down the top weight very well at 9-3, with two of those losses to All-Americans.
The lowest weight continues to be a battle in Blacksburg. Eddie Ventresca has won every match wrestled against Cooper Flynn, all in overtime, but the coaching staff is not settled on a starter as of yet. Ventresca is currently ranked and is 10-3 on the year, while Cooper Flynn is 10-5. It will be very interesting to watch this weight play out, as both can be contenders.
The other big development in the first half for the Hokies is the emergence of true freshmen Tom Crook and Caleb Henson. We knew that Henson would be the starter from day one, but Crook's early success and dominant wrestling showed the staff that he was ready to be in the lineup. Crook has multiple ranked wins and took fifth at the CKLV. Henson also has multiple ranked wins, including knocking off then-second-ranked Sammy Sasso in the Ohio State dual; he also took 3rd in the Keystone Classic. Both of these freshmen will play a huge role in deciding the ACC team title.
#18 Eddie Ventresca-125
#8 Sam Latona-133
#14 Tom Crook-141
#11 Caleb Henson-149
#6 Bryce Andonian-157
#22 Connor Brady-165
#3 Mekhi Lewis-174
#7 Hunter Bolen-184
#23 Andy Smith-197
#23 Hunter Catka-285
The first week of duals will feature NC State at Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh at Virginia and North Carolina at Duke--I will be in Blacksburg to cover the showdown between the Wolfpack and the Hokies along with Rock Harrison and Shawn Kenney on the call for the ACC Network. I hope everyone is ready to tune in on January 20th.