This Friday marks the beginning of ACC conference duals with North Carolina facing Virginia Tech, Virginia traveling to Duke, and NC State heading north to Pittsburgh. Before we start ACC action let’s take a look back at the first half of the season and the highlights, and areas of focus, for each team moving forward.
Dual Record: 4-8
The Blue Devils have had a very dual-heavy schedule and have traveled extensively already this season. They come into ACC competition at 4-8 and have faced five top-30 dual teams thus far. While their record isn’t stellar, they have performed well against similarly ranked teams with victories over Cleveland State, Kent State, and Davidson.
They have shown improvement throughout the year after an 0-4 start. The Blue Devils have been led by Gaetano Console (165) and Connor Barket (285). Barket has stepped into 285 well and has looked better as the year has gone on. He placed eighth at the Southern Scuffle and has been consistent in duals for the Blue Devils. Duke has also had better results from Logan Agin at 125 and Logan Ferrero at 157 and both are off to stronger starts than last season and have both picked up big wins in duals.
Duke isn’t in a position to be a threat for the ACC dual title, but I’m looking for them to continue to improve and have some guys positioned to make a push at the ACC Tournament.
Dual Record: 7-5
The Tar Heels are in a transition year with Coach Rob Koll taking the helm early this fall, he retained Associate Head Coach Tony Ramos and rounded out his staff with Enock Francois and Ben Darmstadt. While they transition to the new staff, they have rolled out a very young lineup, having graduated over half of their starters from last season. There have been some growing pains, but there have also been some outstanding team performances already this year.
The Tar Heels have not shied away from tough competition, facing five top-25 dual teams, going 1-4 in the process with a big win over Arizona State. They are still working to figure out their optimal lineup and have had multiple starters at different weights. They have been led by #5 Lachlan McNeil who is 17-2--his only losses to #4 Ryan Jack and #1 Real Woods--and 11 of his wins are bonus point wins. #29 Spencer Moore has also looked great coming back off a redshirt year, he enters ACC competition at 10-2. #18 Max Shaw has also had a solid season so far at 13-2; he has been much more offensive this year and it is paying off.
The North Carolina staff will have some things to figure out before opening up in Blacksburg on Friday. The biggest focus for the team is to settle on a consistent lineup that is going to be the best combination to face ACC competition. On an individual basis, All-American #23 Gavin Kane has struggled recently and will need to regain his top form to compete in a weight with three top-20 ranked wrestlers at 184 in the conference.
#8 NC State:
Dual Record: 10-2
The Wolfpack enter ACC competition with one of the strongest lineups they have fielded. They opened the year running up nine straight dominant dual victories before dropping a tight dual to #7 Ohio State at the Collegiate Duals and a home dual to #4 Oklahoma State. They finished 4th in a deep CKLV field, bringing home titles from Kai Orine and Trent Hidlay, with Ryan Jack finishing as a runner-up and Ed Scott battling back for third.
The Wolfpack comes into ACC duals with all 10 wrestlers ranked. #5 Kai Orine, #4 Ryan Jack, #3 Jackson Arrington, #7 Ed Scott, #6 Dylan Fishback and #4 Trent Hidlay have all earned top-10 rankings. Orine has looked solid at 133, rounding back into form after what seemed to be a slower start to the year; his losses are to #3 Daton Fix and #12 Nic Bouzakis. Ryan Jack has looked the best he ever has this season, he is more aggressive and is winning close matches that may have eluded him in previous years. Ed Scott had some early season road bumps but has looked incredible. Arrington has been phenomenal; he is 12-1 with a decision loss to Dylan D’Emilio at CKLV. I am very much looking forward to the renewed rivalry with #2 Caleb Henson.
Trent Hidlay moved up to 197 for his final year of eligibility and looks healthy and happy at the new weight. The scary part is, he may be even better at 197 than he was at 184. He is 16-0 with 14 bonus point wins - one of the non-bonus was a seven-point decision. He still moves and attacks incredibly well at the higher weight and his underhook is as dangerous as ever. I love this weight for Trent and think he has great potential to get to the top step of the podium in March.
There aren’t a lot of question marks for the Wolfpack, but there are a few things they will have to have solidified going into ACC duals. There is a real possibility that the dual title could swing based on the performance of Derek Fields at 165 and Alex Faison at 174. They are both talented and can go with anyone, but they will need to be on point in ACC duals for the Wolfpack to bring home another title.
Dual Record: 7-5
The Panthers put together an incredible non-conference schedule that is arguably one of the toughest in the country. They have wins over Maryland, #15 Lehigh, #27 Illinois, and #7 Ohio State. Their losses have come to #4 Oklahoma State, #5 Iowa State, #9 Cornell, #23 Arizona State, and #24 Navy. They have been able to maintain a very consistent starting lineup and have shown they can hang with anyone in the country.
The Panthers have been buoyed by the strength of their upper weights. #14 Holden Heller (7-4), #15 Luca Augustine (10-2), #12 Reece Heller (12-4), #13 Mac Stout (14-3), and #12 Dayton Pitzer (8-4) have been key in their dual success. #29 Finn Solomon (149) came to Pitt as a transfer at 149 and has put together a solid season so far at 12-6. Pitt remains a dangerous dual team because of the consistency they have shown across the lineup.
The biggest questions for the Panthers have been at 157, where they seem to have settled on Jared Keslar as the full-time starter, and at 141 where we have seen inconsistent performances from team captain and former All-American Cole Matthews. Matthews has shown moments of his full potential this year, including an upset of Jesse Mendez in the Ohio State dual, but has several unexpected losses. I trust that Cole will get back on track going into ACC competition where he will have some high-level competition to get back on the top of the podium. A new question mark came up in the Arizona State dual with Dayton Pitzer getting injured in the final match. His health and ability to wrestle could play a huge role in the shaping of the heavyweight field from the ACC.
Dual Record: 5-2
The story for the Hoos has been full of ups and downs this season. They entered the year with high expectations and a young, but dangerous, lineup. They have faced more adversity this year with injuries than most teams would in several years combined. At one point after a difficult Midlands, they had eight starters out of the lineup due to injuries and illness, but they continue to press on and have remained competitive despite many changes within their lineup. Their losses on the season are to Wisconsin and a one-point loss to a scrappy George Mason squad.
They have had some stellar individual performances this season, and I’m hopeful that most of their starters are back to full strength coming into conference competition. They have been led by #14 Justin McCoy at 12-2. His losses are to #8 Phil Conigliaro by injury default in the Midlands semifinals and a sudden victory loss to #12 Max Maylor on a stalling point that was questionable, at best. #28 Dylan Cedeno has looked great with his move to 157; he is 10-2 on the year and I’m excited to see what he can do in the ACC when he is back to full strength. #33 Ryan Catka has been a great addition at the top of the lineup, holding an 8-2 record at 285.
The Cavaliers have embraced the next-man-up mentality this season out of necessity. It speaks to the culture that Coach Garland has built that the wrestlers have stepped up to the challenge, some bumping weights and starting on short notice to help the team. The challenge for the Hoos entering conference duals is to put out the best, healthiest lineup possible to be competitive. At full strength, they can be a competitive team in the ACC and I’m hopeful they are able to show that over the next six weeks.
#8 Virginia Tech:
Dual Record: 4-3
The Hokies dual record isn’t a great depiction of the strength of this team with their three losses coming to #3 Mizzou, #7 Ohio State, and #9 Cornell. They also sent a bulk of their starters to the CKLV, Keystone Classic, and Midlands with some stellar individual results. Safe to say the Hokies are battle-tested coming into ACC competition.
All 10 starters are ranked for the Hokies. They are led by #2 Caleb Henson (20-1), #2 Mekhi Lewis (7-0), #6 Cooper Flynn (8-2) and #8 Bryce Andonian (14-4) all in the top-10 with #11 Sam Latona (12-4) just outside. Henson has been a force of nature this year with 13 bonus point wins, including 3 falls, that have been critical to the team's success. He finished as runner-up at CKLV, falling in a tight bout to #1 Ridge Lovett after beating #3 Kyle Parco in the semis. Mekhi has been, well, Mekhi; consistent and impressive every time out and comes in with a 7-0 record. Andonian has looked incredible, other than a couple hiccups in matches he should have been more competitive. He injured his knee in a rematch with Meyer Shapiro and will be out for ACC duals, hoping for a postseason return.
Cooper Flynn may be one of the more interesting stories this season. Initially, he was taking an Olympic Redshirt after making the U23 team and winning a Senior level international tournament. Returning All-American Eddie Ventresca was to hold down the spot again this season. A preseason injury to Ventresca turned out to be more significant than initially thought and though he made a go of it in the early season, it was clear that he was not in his best form. Flynn returned from redshirt in the second semester, knocking off CKLV champion Nico Provo in his first dual action and finishing fourth at Midlands in tournament action. He has since beaten then #2 Noah Surtin in dual action and is ranked in the top-10 for the Hokies in a very volatile 125 weight class.
The question marks for the Hokies remain at the upper weights where they have established starters that have been pushed by a talented freshmen class. Dakota Howard has also returned for his final semester and is down to 184, he will be battling with Sam Fisher for the starting spot for the postseason. The Hokies will be in the thick of the fight for the ACC dual crown with NC State, and the final dual of the season could likely determine the team title.