Austin O'Connor at the 2022 Collegiate Duals (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
Duke: The Blue Devils will be off this week and next week. They return to action with Central Michigan on 1/19 and North Carolina to open ACC action on 1/20.
Pittsburgh: The Panthers will bring the Backyard Brawl to the mat when they welcome West Virginia to the Fitzgerald Field House on Sunday. This rivalry plays a major role during football season, and it will be great to see it on the Resilite this weekend. Pitt is favored on paper, but there will be some solid matches in this one, including a couple very good ranked-versus-ranked matchups. It will be a great dual to watch on a Sunday afternoon.
125: #7 Killian Cardinale vs Colton Camacho
Cardinale is a 2021 All-American and made the blood round last year, so he is well-established as a dangerous wrestler. However, he only has three matches on the year; after picking up three wins at the Midlands before medically forfeiting out of the tournament. Camacho has had a good year so far and is looking for a signature win to boost him to the next tier. He has an opportunity here with Cardinale, but it will be a big ask.
149: #28 Sam Hillegas vs #25 Tyler Badgett
This is one of the two big matchups that I am looking forward to. Hillegas has put together a good season in Morgantown since transferring from VT. Badgett has been on a great run this year and is coming off a podium finish at the Midlands. I have been very impressed with Badgett this year and like the trajectory he is on; I think this will be a close match but I give the edge to Badgett.
157: #27 Alex Hornfeck vs Dazjon Casto
Hornfeck has put together a good season but doesn't have any signature wins that really jump off the page at you. Casto has had a rough start to his time in Pittsburgh and is in need of a big win to jumpstart his season before conference duals start. This is a good chance for Casto to get back on track against a ranked opponent and show the form that makes him such a dangerous wrestler.
165: #12 Peyton Hall vs #28 Holden Heller
Peyton Hall is a wrestler who I have always enjoyed watching; he is immensely talented and has so many clutch wins on his record. He dropped in the rankings after taking a loss to Danny Braunagel at the Midlands and subsequently medically forfeiting out of the tournament, but was previously ranked #5. Heller has had a great year since coming to Pittsburgh from Hofstra, he also dropped in the rankings after going 2-2 at the Midlands. This should be a very fun one to watch.
285: #28 Michael Wolfgram vs #5 Dayton Pitzer
Wolfgram was a 2022 national qualifier and he has been in and out of the rankings over the past couple of years and is a very solid wrestler. After the amazing tournament Pitzer had at the Midlands, he will be back in dual action and I'm interested to see if he can keep the incredible momentum churning.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels will head to Pennsylvania for a weekend of wrestling; they will send a squad to the F&M Open on Friday then face a very scrappy Penn squad in Philly on Saturday. The dual with Penn should be very tight and there are some toss-up matches that will be critical to the team score. Unfortunately, we will not see a full-strength UNC lineup with Clay Lautt still out since the App State dual and Zach Sherman being eased back into the lineup. This dual should be very entertaining as Penn is really building as a program and has some very talented wrestlers up and down the lineup. Here are a few big ones to keep your eye on.
125: #31 Ryan Miller vs #33 Jack Wagner
Both have had similar seasons and this match will be very important in what could be a very tight dual.
133: #9 Michael Coliaocco vs #30 Joey Melendez
Coliaocco has looked phenomenal this season. He is 13-3 with all losses to top-10 wrestlers and is coming off winning a title at the Midlands. Melendez started the season off strong with a title at the Southeast Open, but has struggled with top-tier competition in his last few outings. This would be a huge win for Melendez, but he will have to be at the top of his game to compete with Colaiocco.
149: #10 Doug Zapf vs Zach Sherman
While I would love to see this match, I don't think it's going to happen. Sherman is seeing his first competition of the season this year at the F&M Open, and the plan is to ease him back in, so I don't anticipate him getting a top-10 opponent out of the gate.
157: #15 Anthony Artalona vs #4 Austin O'Connor
This could be a fun one. Artalona is 13-3 on the year and is coming off a podium finish at the Midlands. He is a two-time blood round finisher at the NCAAs and is a fun wrestler to watch. O'Connor is 2-0 since returning and he will face his first ranked wrestler of the season. I would love to see AOC turn it on and pick up some bonus points here.
North Carolina State: The Wolfpack open their 2023 home slate by welcoming Binghamton to Reynolds Coliseum on Friday night. The backstory here, of course, is Coach Popolizio facing the team where he made his head coaching debut; he was at the helm of the Bearcats from 2007 to 2012 before coming to Raleigh. The Bearcats have a scrappy team and three ranked wrestlers at the top end of the lineup, but the Wolfpack should be able to take care of business handily.
184: #23 Jacob Nolan vs #3 Trent Hidlay
Hidlay is coming off his only loss of the season and will be looking to make a statement. Nolan has put together a good season so far, and is coming off an eighth-place finish at the Southern Scuffle. I don't foresee Trent having any issues here and would expect him to be looking for BONUS.
197: #9 Lou Deprez vs #7 Isaac Trumble
I was hopeful that we would get this matchup because it would be a fun one--but Deprez defaulted out of the finals of the Southern Scuffle with an injury mid-match. He will not be available on Friday; Trumble will face freshman Cayden Bevis.
285: #21 Cory Day vs #13 Owen Trephan
Cory Day also had a stellar performance at the Scuffle, making the finals where he fell to Zach Elam. Trephan will look to add to his already strong record; he comes in at 13-3 on the year, with his only losses being to top-10 ranked wrestlers. While Day has looked good, Trephan is more battle-tested this year and has much better hair.
The Wolfpack will also send a solid contingent to the David Lehman Open at Franklin and Marshall including several true freshmen. Now that we are in the second semester, they can compete unattached and it won't impact their five competition dates.
Virginia: The Hoos will have a pseudo-home match on Saturday as they will "host" in-state foe George Mason for a dual on the campus of St. Christopher's School in Richmond. The dual is part of a larger dual event hosted by St. Christopher's that will feature top teams in Virginia--St. Christophers, New Kent and Christiansburg, as well as Blair Academy, Connellsville PA, and Baylor School from Tennessee. It will be a great all-day wrestling event for the state and anyone who is in the Richmond area should make their way out.
While the Hoos are favored on paper, Coach Beasley has done an incredible job rebuilding the GMU program and has them off to an 8-0 start on the season. They are a very scrappy squad and should not be overlooked; there should be some competitive bouts and the Mason crew is battle tested--most coming in with over 20 matches on the season.
There are a few things to watch for in this dual. Both true freshmen Kyle Montaperto and Garrett Grice are listed as probables behind Patrick McCormick and Erik Roggie, respectively. Jake Keating is listed as a probable and would be making his return from injury; this would be his first action since the Northwestern dual in November. Ethan Weatherspoon will likely make his dual debut at 285. The Hoos lost Gabe Christensen to injury against Queens and Jessie Knight was injured at Midlands. Here are a couple matches I think could be very entertaining.
149: Nathan Higley vs #29 Jarod Verkleeren
This is a big rematch. Higley took the win in sudden victory at the Midlands to make the podium and knock Verkleeren out of the tournament. I have a feeling that Verk would like to get that one back.
174: Logan Messer vs Vic Marcelli/Justin Phillips
Messer has been one of the top performers for the Patriots, coming in at 17-3 on the year. 174 has been a weight for the Hoos that has seen multiple starters and no one has really made the case to take the full-time job. This could be an opportunity for Vic or Justin to step up and take the starting spot.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies have a busy weekend on tap. They welcome #15 Cornell for the annual dual at the Moss Arts Center. They will then turn around and head to Fairfax to face George Mason for an afternoon dual, followed by a trek into the District to face American Sunday evening. I'm going to focus on the Cornell dual--it is going to be a fantastic matchup and not gonna lie, I'm trying to get this finished up before I leave for Blacksburg!
A couple notes on the lineup--Bryce Andonian and Mekhi Lewis will both not be wrestling against Cornell. Andonian is working back from a foot injury and Lewis tweaked his knee in the dual against Stanford in December. They expect both to be back at full strength before ACC duals begin.
The absence of two All-Americans will certainly make a more difficult path to victory for the Hokies, but it is still possible. Let's take a look at what the Hokies will need to do to take the win tonight.
125: #21 Brett Ungar vs #18 Eddie Ventresca/Cooper Flynn
It will be critical that the Hokies pick up this win to start the dual. Ungar has been solid this year, but I think both Ventresca and Flynn have the skills to win this match.
133: #3 Vito Arujau vs #8 Sam Latona
This may be a matchup of the two tallest and lankiest 133s in the country. This has the potential for a lot of fireworks as both of these guys will let it fly and can wrestle through all sorts of funky positions. Vito is 2-0 against Latona at 125 and has the slight edge in this matchup, but I don't put it past Sam to be able to beat anyone on a given day. Definitely going to be a fun one.
141: #22 Vince Cornella vs #14 Tom Crook/Colin Gerardi
This is a huge swing match. I think the Hokies will send out Crook for this matchup and Gerardi will get the nod for the Sunday matches. Both Cornella and Crook are 11-3 and have wins over ranked opponents. Crook has a win over Lachlan McNeil, who beat Cornella at the Collegiate Duals. I give the edge to Crook here but this one will be tight.
149: #1 Yianni Diakomihalis vs #11 Caleb Henson
What can you say here? Yianni is a freak and we are lucky to get to see him compete. Henson has had a phenomenal season and will be a tough out for anyone, but it's hard to bet against the 3-time NCAA Champ. That being said, Yianni has a loss this season for the first time since 2018 and has wrestled close matches. Henson could shock the world tonight, but it's going to take a perfect performance from the true freshman.
157: Colton Yapoujin vs Clayton Ulrey
This is another huge swing match that the Hokies will need. Ulrey has competed well filling in for Andonian, and is 12-8 on the year. He has looked good since moving down to 157 and is a very difficult wrestler to score on. Ulrey will need to come through big for the Hokies as he did in the Mizzou dual.
165: #7 Julian Ramirez vs #22 Connor Brady
Brady has benefitted from the move up to 165 and has put together a good start to the season. Three of his losses are to top-10 wrestlers; he held Keegan O'Toole to one of his lowest-scoring decisions of the season and went into overtime with Shane Griffith. This shows me that Brady is ready to make a breakthrough…so why not tonight against a very good Julian Ramirez? Ramirez is a solid wrestler and can put up points in bunches. Brady will have to slow him down and make his offense count to knock him off.
174: #6 Chris Foca vs Jordan Florence/Kolton Clark
This will be a big ask for Florence or Clark…but they will need to minimize the damage from Foca to keep the Hokies in this dual. Foca is tough; he is 0-2 against Mekhi, but both were very tight matches. The Big Red will be looking for bonus here.
184: #6 Jonathan Loew/Evan Canoyer vs #7 Hunter Bolen
The Christiansburg Cowboy will need to come through for the Hokies. He has looked amazing this year and is very much back in the form of his All-American year--more importantly, his mindset is locked in and ready to get back on the podium. These two have split matches, with Bolen winning in 2020 and Loew winning in sudden victory at the Collegiate Duals last season. I feel great about where Bolen is and I think he takes this match.
197: #17 Jacob Cardenas vs #23 Andy Smith
These last two matches will be huge for the team battle. Both favor the Big Red on paper, but both are winnable matches for the Hokies. Cardenas beat Smith 3-2 at the Collegiate Duals last season, but Smith has shown that he has made big strides in the last year. If he wrestles like he did in Vegas, he wins this match. That is the Andy Smith that the Hokies will need tonight.
285: #18 Lewis Fernandes vs #23 Hunter Catka
The dual could very well come down to this last match. Fernandes is a dangerous wrestler, but at 4-4 on the year, he hasn't had the showings that he did last year when he made the blood round. Catka comes in at 9-3 with losses to two All-Americans and a conference foe in sudden victory. The atmosphere of the Moss Arts Center may play a big role in helping propel Catka to victory to seal this dual.