The Pitt wrestling team, ranked No. 16 by the NWCA Coaches Poll this week, concludes its 2021 regular season Friday night with a marquee match at No. 4 Virginia Tech. The dual will be nationally televised on ACC Network.
The Panthers (3-3, 1-3 ACC) beat the Hokies (8-0, 4-0 ACC) to finish the regular season last year in Pittsburgh by way of an 18-13 score. However, Pitt will face a stiffer challenge this time around against a Virginia Tech team that clinched the ACC dual meet title in 2021 with a thrilling win over NC State last Friday, Jan. 5th.
The contest takes on further significance after Thursday afternoon’s announcement by the NCAA that there will be more at-large berths given to the NCAA Championship this year due to the shortened season, which leaves the ACC with 33 automatic qualifiers to the national tournament to be awarded in a few weeks at the conference championship hosted by NC State in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Six Panthers were ranked by the Coaches Poll in addition to this week’s NCAA allocation news:
Nine Hokies were ranked by the Coaches Poll in addition to this week’s NCAA allocation news, with the lone absence coming at 174:
#4 Sam Latona, 125
#5 Korbin Myers, 133
#23 Sam Hillegras, 141
#10 Bryce Andonian, 149
#29 Connor Brady, 157
#1 Mehki Lewis, 165
#1 Hunter Bolen, 184
#29 Stanley Smeltzer, 197
#19 John Borst, HWT
The biggest individual battle of Friday night’s ACC Network dual is slated to showcase Pitt’s Wentzel, who already owns three wins over ranked wrestlers this season, facing his biggest test yet in the form of No. 1-ranked and 2019 NCAA champion Mekhi Lewis at 165 pounds. Fellow team captain Gregg Harvey has an equally tall task in front of him in No. 1 Hunter Bolen in the 184 pound match.
In a dual filled with ranked wrestlers on both sides, Pitt’s student-athletes will look to make one final impression in the conference – and nationally – knowing that all-important seeding for the conference tournament and possible at-large selection to the NCAA Championship are at stake.
Here are some things to be on the lookout for:
- Look for some of the nation’s best to be in action. VT has two top-ranked wrestlers set to take the mat. Pitt will bring three top-10 wrestlers of its own to the dual.
- Pay special attention to 125 pounds as Tech’s Sam Latona looks to avoid what some might call a “trap match.” Latona is coming off the biggest victory of his young college career in an upset win over a top-five-ranked wrestler in NC State’s Jakob Camacho. The win not only won the dual for the Hokies, but also the ACC dual meet title as well. Pitt’s Colton Camacho (no relation to Jakob) is wrestling his best as of late, and has nothing to lose and everything to prove.
- Look for Pitt to try to ruin the party. VT has numerous undefeated streaks on the line as they welcome Pitt to Cassell Coliseum. These include: An undefeated regular season, the first since the 1956-57 season; Four starters aim for undefeated records in ACC action on the year: Latona, Myers, Bolen, and Lewis. Additionally, Bolen and Lewis look to “complete the cycle” by earning wins over opponents from every other ACC school.
- Wentzel looks for win number one over Lewis. He has never beaten the 2019 NCAA champ in his career. Lewis is currently 3-0 against ranked opponents this season, including 1-0 against top-10 opponents with a 4-3 decision win over then-No. 8 Kennedy Monday of North Carolina. Wentzel defeated Monday earlier this season, 10-6, on Feb. 5th at Fitzgerald Field House.
- Watch for 133 to be a battle of former Pennsylvania state champs. Pitt’s Phillippi is a three-time Pennsylvania high school state champion for Derry Area, while Myers brought home one title as a prep grappler for Boiling Springs.
ACC Network viewers will be treated to great final dual at 6 p.m. Friday evening with renowned wrestling commentators Shawn Kenney and Rock Harrison calling the contest for a national audience.