Conference season is officially upon us.
Arguably the best event in the college wrestling this weekend will be the 2021 Atlantic Coast Conference Championships in Raleigh, North Carolina. While the ACC may be a small conference, with just six total schools, it is probably the deepest conference with respect to top-to-bottom strength and overall parody within the conference.
Five of the six ACC affiliates are ranked in the top-20 in the latest NWCA Coaches Poll. Perennial powers NC State and Virginia Tech are both top-seven. Additionally, plenty of individual star power will be featured at the Championships.
There will be 13 wrestlers in action Sunday are currently ranked in the top ten of their respective weights, including two number-one ranked wrestlers, and a past national champion. This year, eight 2020 ACC champs will be in action this weekend, trying to defend their crowns. Most impressively, the conference currently boasts more ranked wrestlers than it has automatic bids for the NCAA championships.
Brackets can be found here.
Schedule of Events
3️⃣3️⃣ NCAA automatic bids are up for grabs at the ACC Championships.
— Pitt Wrestling (@Pitt_WRES) February 25, 2021
Sunday is sure to be a fantastic day of high-caliber wrestling. Here are five things to watch for:
- The 165-pound weight class will be outstanding. Not only does it feature the returning ACC champ, No. 6 (FloWrestling) Jake Wentzel (Pitt), but also, it features the 2019 165-pound National Champion and Flo’s current No. 1, Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech). This weight also showcases a trio of other Flo-ranked wrestlers in No. 10 Jake Keating (Virginia), No. 11 Kennedy Monday (North Carolina), No. 13 Thomas Bullard (NC State). All five wrestlers have shown the ability to beat one another in the past. It would not surprise me to see any of these five claim the 2021 conference title. That said, I expect it to be a Hokie versus Panther matchup in the finals.
- The 197-pound class will also be a fun one to watch as well. At 197, No. 5 Nino Bonaccorsi (Pitt), No. 8 Jay Aiello (Virginia), and No. 17 Max Shaw (North Carolina), have all showed flashes of brilliance this year. Again, it wouldn’t be a shock to see any of these Flo-ranked ACC foes atop the podium Sunday night. Whoever wins, they will likely be avenging an earlier loss against their finals opponent. Shockingly, Flo’s No. 16 Isaac Trumble (NC State) didn’t get the nod for the Wolfpack. Instead, it’ll be two-time NCAA qualifier Nick Reenan suiting up for the host school.
- Pay attention to Micky Phillippi at 133. The Pitt lightweight will be in pursuit of his third ACC title in as many tries, all of which came at the same weight. Capturing Phillippi’s third crown will be no easy feat however as there are four ACC 133-pounders currently ranked within Flo’s top ten spots. Phillippi will be returning to the mat for the first time since Feb. 5th. Also a surprise, North Carolina’s Jamie Hernandez, who Flo lists as the No. 8 133-pounder didn’t get the nod for the Tar Heels. Phillippi beat Hernandez by way of an 8-5 decision in the ACC finals last year to claim his second conference crown.
- Expect the Pitt Panther starting lineup to look a bit different. The 2020 ACC Championships team runner-up went with true freshman Mick Burnett at 149 and redshirt freshman Austin Cooley at heavyweight. Also, Pitt does not have a grappler competing in the 157-pound weight class. In total, nine Panthers will take to the mats this weekend.
- Watch for NC State’s Hayden Hidlay to capture his fourth conference title. The redshirt senior will also be a contender for the 157-pound NCAA title next month in March as well. Hidlay will try to lead his NC State squad to its third straight ACC Tournament team title.
Looking ahead, the Panthers will travel to St. Louis, Missouri for the 2021 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championship, March 18-20.