NC State Wolfpack wrestling claims second straight ACC title
PITTSBURGH — If the seeds coming into the ACC Wrestling Championships had held and the higher-ranked wrestler won every match, NC State wrestling would’ve won the conference title by a comfortable margin Sunday.
But wrestling brackets never play out like that, and the team race in Pittsburgh got tight.
NC State needed a complete team effort to take the trophy, and that’s exactly what they received. All 10 wrestlers placed among the top four and scored team points, led by a pair of champions.
Redshirt freshman 125-pounder Jakob Camacho and 157-pound redshirt junior Hayden Hidlay both claimed ACC gold, while four others made the finals to earn runner-up finishes. Redshirt junior 141-pounder Tariq Wilson, 174-pound redshirt junior Daniel Bullard, 184-pound redshirt freshman Trent Hidlay and sophomore heavyweight Deonte Wilson were the second-place finishers.
"Total team effort," head coach Pat Popolizio said. "I don't think it was our best performance overall, as far as the expectations that these guys have for themselves, but I think it was extremely important that everybody scored points for us.
"That's how you're going to win when you're in this type of setting and don't have any room for error."
Camacho was named the meet's most outstanding wrestler by the league coaches, after he upset the nation's No. 2-ranked wrestler, Virginia's Jack Mueller, who was the NCAA runner-up last season, in the championship bout.
The Wolfpack won the title by just a four-point margin, the closest ACC tournament team race since 2009, when Maryland topped Virginia by only two points.
It marks the second straight conference title for NC State, which had not gone wire to wire since 2001-02, and its third in the last five years under Popolizio.
Eight of the 10 NCSU competitors placed high enough that they earned automatic-qualifying bids to the NCAA Championships, which will be held March 19-21 in Minneapolis. In addition to the six who made the finals, 165-pound redshirt junior Thomas Bullard and 133-pound redshirt freshman Jarrett Trombley punched tickets to nationals.
However, several on the team didn't wrestle their best on Sunday and will have plenty of room for improvement on the sport's biggest stage. It might actually be the best of both worlds — NC State wrestled well enough to win at ACCs, but not well enough to be satisfied heading into the most important event.
"[Some of] these guys are really hungry, they're not happy," Popolizio explained. "They're going to enjoy tonight as far as the team aspect, but I can tell you right now it's obviously going to motivate these guys, keep them hungry and aggressive.
"At the end of the day, our ultimate goal is the NCAA Tournament. … I think this is as good as any team we've ever had. It's going to come down to having what Camacho did tonight, having somebody else step up, having our leaders come up big, getting a guy like Deonte Wilson believing in himself.
"We can be a dangerous team, but we've got to go there and earn it."
There's no doubt the Wolfpack started the postseason by doing just that in Pittsburgh.