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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    2023-24 InterMat's Year-End ACC Awards

    The 2023-24 season is in the record books, but before moving on, it’s time to salute the top performers in each conference. We've already hit on Big TenBig 12 , EIWA and MAC; so now we're onto the ACC. 

    ACC Wrestler of the Year: Caleb Henson (Virginia Tech)

    The Virginia Tech Hokies got their second-ever NCAA individual championship as Caleb Henson prevailed over the field at 149 lbs in Kansas City. After a controversial ACC finals loss, Henson was saddled with the fourth seed, though he spent a large chunk of the 2023-24 campaign ranked second in the country. That didn’t matter to Henson as he reeled off three straight wins to earn a place in the NCAA semifinals.

    In the semifinals, Henson was able to keep the dangerous, top-seeded Ridge Lovett (Nebraska) in check and pulled the slight upset, 1-0. Henson’s mat wrestling made the difference, as he was able to escape and Lovett did not choose bottom. The two had met earlier in the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational finals and Lovett prevailed, 4-3. With the win over Lovett, Henson had earned victories over both of the wrestlers who had defeated him this season (He had beaten ACC finals opponent Jackson Arrington in their dual meet). 

    More importantly, the Lovett win ensured Henson a spot in the national finals, a feat only three wrestlers in Hokie history had accomplished before him. On the raised mat, Henson gave up an early takedown to the explosive Austin Gomez (Michigan) but never wavered. He kept his composure and put Gomez on his back in a sequence that blew open the finals contest. Henson poured it on to the tune of a 15-7 major decision. 

    Not only did Henson make history for his school, but also for his home state. His win made him the first Georgia native to ever win a DI national title. 

    Henson’ finished his sophomore year with a 30-2 record and is now 57-7 after two years of collegiate competition. Without taking a redshirt, Henson has been able to earn All-American honors on two occasions and also a 2023 ACC championship. 

    Honorable Mention: Trent Hidlay (NC State)

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    ACC Freshman of the Year: TJ Stewart (Virginia Tech)

    It took a while for TJ Stewart to crack the lineup at Virginia Tech, but once he did, there was no looking back. In Stewart’s ACC debut, he had an early lead on returning All-American Gavin Kane (North Carolina); however, the veteran was able to push it into overtime and take the win. That wouldn’t happen again as Stewart didn’t lose again before Kansas City. Stewart finished the regular season with wins over returning qualifier Reece Heller and fellow freshman stud Dylan Fishback. 

    At the ACC Championships, Stewart got his revenge on Kane with a victory of his own in sudden victory before downing Fishback for the conference crown. 

    Despite the lack of bouts wrestled in the regular season, Stewart was given the seventh seed at nationals on the heels of his ACC crown. Stewart quickly showed the bright lights of his first national tournament weren’t a hindrance as he needed only :55 for a fall over Max Hale (Penn) in his NCAA debut. Stewart would win another bout, which led into the NCAA quarterfinals against the second-seeded Big Ten champion Isaiah Salazar (Minnesota). Stewart nearly pulled off the upset, but a late score from the veteran clinched a 6-4 win. 

    In order to earn All-American honors, Stewart would need one more win and have an imposing figure to topple. That wasn’t an issue and Stewart defeated 2023 NCAA 3rd Place finisher Chris Foca (Cornell) to lock up a spot in the top-eight. In his final bout of the year, Stewart teched David Key (Navy) to earn seventh place and wrestle up to his seed. 

    Once the smoke cleared, Stewart finished his redshirt freshman campaign 14-4 with an All-American plaque and an ACC title. 

    Honorable Mention: Dylan Fishback (NC State)

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    ACC Coach of the Year: Tony Robie (Virginia Tech)

    In one of the more difficult decisions of our entire conference awards, we’re giving the ACC Coach of the Year award to Virginia Tech’s Tony Robie. For the third consecutive year, the Hokies finished as conference runners-up to NC State, but outplaced their bitter rivals at the NCAA Tournament. 

    A total of four Virginia Tech wrestlers made the NCAA podium, which makes them one of only five schools that have had four or more AA’s in each of the last two seasons. Those four All-Americans led Virginia Tech to a seventh-place finish, which is the third-best in school history. Their 64 points were the second most in school history. 

    As mentioned above, Caleb Henson’s national title at 149 lbs made him only the second national champion in school history. Both have done so under the watch of Robie. 

    In dual competition, the Hokies went 9-4. Out-of-conference highlights were wins over Rutgers and Stanford, both of which were programs that finished in the top-20 at nationals. 

    Honorable Mention: Pat Popolizio (NC State)
     

    Previous Award Winners

    ACC Wrestler of the Year

    2023: Austin O’Connor (North Carolina)

    2022: Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech)
     

    ACC Freshman of the Year

    2023: Caleb Henson (Virginia Tech)

    2022: Ed Scott (NC State)
     

    ACC Coach of the Year

    2023: Tony Robie (Virginia Tech)

    2022: Pat Popolizio (NC State)

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