2021 MatMen Open champion Elijah Cleary (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
I apologize for the delay in getting this recap out to all the ACC fans. Virginia decided that it was time to switch from summer to winter and go from 70 to a foot of snow overnight, so I've been without power and internet most of the week. We had a solid week of matches for almost all the teams in the conference and are coming into the conference dual season with a lot of good things happening.
Duke: The Blue Devils traveled to the Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga and left with both Finesilver brothers bringing home hardware. #7 Josh Finesilver made history for Duke, becoming only the second-ever Southern Scuffle champion for the Blue Devils, joining two-time All-American Jacob Kasper. Josh had a stellar tournament at 149 and beat some high-quality opponents to get to the top of the podium. He opened with a pin over Zac Cowan of Bellarmine and followed with a major decision of Rudy Lopez of Northern Colorado before a decision win over high school phenom Cody Chittum in the quarterfinals. Finesilver then beat Oklahoma State's Victor Voinovich in the semifinals before taking an 11-10 decision over #22 Josh Edmond from Missouri in an incredibly entertaining final. He is now 21-1 on the season.
#8 Matt Finesilver made it to day two of the Scuffle without allowing a point. He pinned Marty Larkin of Michigan State and won 8-0 major decisions over both Bailee O'Reilly of Minnesota and Benjamin Haubert of The Citadel. Finesilver was up in his semifinal match before a wild scramble allowed #13 Peyton Mocco of Missouri to catch Finesilver and secure the pin. He then lost his consolation quarterfinal in sudden victory to Austin Brenner of North Dakota State. Matt was able to come back to finish on a positive note, beating Brennan Swofford of Iowa in a 14-0 major decision to claim a fifth-place finish. Finesilver is now 21-2 on the season.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels were scheduled to compete in the Southern Scuffle, but withdrew due to COVID precautions within the program.
North Carolina State: The Wolfpack sent a limited squad of six wrestlers to the Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga and brought home four podium finishes. AJ Kovacs placed 6th at 157 and went 5-3 over the tournament, with all five wins by decision. #19 Thomas Bullard started strong, winning three matches, including a 3-2 decision over Alex Facundo of Penn State, before losing a one-point match to Will Formato of Appalachian State in the quarterfinals. Bullard then beat teammate Jacob Null to guarantee a podium finish, before medically forfeiting his final two matches to finish in 8th place. The last two podium finishes were at heavyweight, where Tyrie Houghton took a 3-2 overtime victory over teammate Owen Trephan to finish in fifth place. NC State sent three wrestlers at heavyweight, also Deonte Wilson, to help determine the starter moving forward as all three have shown great potential at different points in the season.
Pittsburgh: The Panthers arguably had the best finish of the winter break, taking home the team title at the MatMen Open. Pitt finished with 121.5 points while runner-up Penn scored 118 in a team race where every point was crucial.
At 125, #26 Gage Curry went 3-2 to finish in 7th place, while Colton Camacho went 2-2 and was one win short of placing. #6 Micky Phillippi won his first three matches to make it to the finals against All-American #7 Lucas Byrd. Phillippi fell in a tight 5-4 match to finish as the runner-up. #24 Cole Matthews lost a close 5-4 bout in the quarterfinals, but came back with pins in back-to-back matches, to finish the tournament in 3rd place. At 149, Dan Mancini finished 2-2 and Luke Kemerer finished 0-2.
#28 Elijah Cleary put together his best performance of the year at 157 to win the championship over #20 Doug Zapf of Penn. I can't speak highly enough about what we saw from Cleary at this tournament. He was aggressive on offense and incredibly tough to score on with his always stellar defense. Cleary took a one-point win over #10 Kendall Coleman in the semifinals to face Zapf. This tournament could be a major momentum swing for Cleary moving into conference competition.
#8 Jake Wentzel started the tournament with a major and a decision before falling in a 1-0 decision to #14 Philip Conigliaro of Harvard. He came back with wins over #29 Lucas Revano of Penn and #18 Izzak Olenjik of Northern Illinois to finish in 3rd place. Hunter Kernan went 0-2 at 174. #31 Gregg Harvey opened with a win before losing by decision to some guy named Mark Hall… He picked up another win in the consis before falling to #19 Zac Braunagel. He finished on a high note, beating #32 Neil Antrassian of Penn to finish in 7th place. #2
Nino Bonaccorsi went tech fall, major, major to make the finals opposite #12 Greg Bulsak of Rutgers. In a tight match, Bulsak pulled out the 3-2 decision to beat the previously undefeated Bonaccorsi. Finally, at heavyweight, Jake Slinger picked up a 49-second pin and a decision win before falling to #5 Trent Hilger in the semis. Slinger then lost his two consolation matches to finish in 6th place.
Virginia: When the cancellation of The Midlands was announced, the Hoos scheduled a tri with #24 Northwestern and SIUE in place of the tournament. The biggest news on the day was the return of #16 Jay Aiello, who has been out to start the season after bringing home a bronze medal at the U23 World Championships. UVA opened the day with a 34-3 win over SIUE. Patrick McCormack picked up the only bonus-point win for the Hoos with a major decision. #14 Brian Courtney (133) and #16 Justin McCoy (165) both received forfeits to pick up bonus points for the team. #16 Jay Aiello won 11-6 at 197 in his first match back and looked solid in the process. The Hoos controlled this dual from the whistle and only had one match that was within two points.
The dual against Northwestern was outstanding. The Wildcats got off to a hot start and the Cavaliers picked up a couple big wins in the middle of the lineup to make the dual come down to the last match to determine the team winner. Dylan Cedeno lost a decision at 141 to open the dual, followed by a controversial pin call against Jarod Verkleeren in a match against All-American Yahya Thomas at 149. Denton Spencer lost a 4-0 decision at 157 to put the Hoos down 12-0. At 165, #16 Justin McCoy earned a ranked win over #33 David Ferrante in a 10-5 decision. Justin Phillips followed up with an upset win over #20 Troy Fisher to swing the momentum for UVA. Michael Battista put on an offensive display in a 12-4 major decision at 184, followed by #16 Jay Aiello earning a 5-3 decision over #30 Andrew Davison to give the 13-12 lead to the Hoos. #27 Quinn Miller dropped a 9-4 decision to #14 Lucas Davison to give the lead back to the Wildcats going into the final two matches. Patrick McCormack picked up his second big win of the day at 125 to bring the team score to 16-15 UVA going into the final match. 133 was probably the match of the day between #14 Brian Courtney and #9 Chris Cannon. It was a back and forth match with the lead switching multiple times. Courtney was up 7-6 going into the final seconds when Cannon was able to get a last-second takedown to win 8-7, making the team score 18-16 in favor of Northwestern. Jay Aiello also picked up a pin in an extra match to bring his season record to 3-0.
Also competing in his first action of the year, Jake Keating jumped in the field at the MatMen Open. He won his opening match before losing by decision to drop to the consolation bracket. There he won four matches in a row to finish in 3rd place in his first competition of the year. Keating and Aiello being back in the lineup is a huge boost for the Hoos moving forward into conference competition.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies sent eight to the Scuffle in a mix of attached and unattached wrestlers. Their best finish came from #14 Hunter Bolen at 184. He went 3-0 on day one with a major and two decision wins. Bolen fell to a red hot #32 Kyle Cochran of Maryland 6-4 in the semifinals. He then won by injury default to face #15 Jeremiah Kent of Missouri in the third-place match. Bolen was much more offensive in this match and won 3rd with a 9-4 decision. Andy Smith was also in action for the Hokies at 197. He went 5-2 over the two days and finished in 5th place--both of his losses were to #20 Cam Caffey of Michigan State. Competing unattached for the Hokies, Eddie Ventresca went 3-3 at 125 to finish in 8th place.