2023-24 North Carolina State Wrestling

NC State Wrestling Leaves Vegas With Two Champs, Positive Outlook

NC State Wrestling Leaves Vegas With Two Champs, Positive Outlook

With six placewinners and individual champions Kai Orine and Trent Hidlay, NC State wrestling finished fourth at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.

Dec 6, 2023 by Brian Reinhardt
NC State Wrestling Leaves Vegas With Two Champs, Positive Outlook

A few years back, NC State head coach Pat Popolizio was looking for ways to beef up the Wolfpack’s yearly schedule. One event in particular that was important to get on the schedule as much as possible — the annual Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas.

The Pack has now competed in the marquee in-season tournament three of the last four times it was held.

“This kind of tournament really mirrors the NCAA Tournament, and that is why we wanted to go and compete,” Popolizio said. “You get past that first round, (then) you are running into ranked wrestlers in that second bout. We needed that, our guys got tested.”

The 2023 field might have been the deepest, most competitive yet as action wrapped up last weekend. There were 15 of the nation’s top-25 teams in attendance, including seven top-10 schools. The 10 weights contained 138 nationally ranked wrestlers, including 48 ranked in the top 10 in their respective weight class.

The Pack took nine of its 10 starters, current #1 at 125 Jakob Camacho had a planned weekend off already. NC State — with champs Kai Orine at 133 and Trent Hidlay at 197 — was one of only two schools to have multiple champions. The Pack had six reached the podium overall and the team finished in fourth place.

“We had to battle through some adversity throughout the weekend, and we wanted to see how guys responded,” Popolizio said. “As the tournament went on, we settled in and brought home some pretty good results for where we are at with our training. This was a great true test for early December.”

Orine Defends Top Seed

With Daton Fix (Oklahoma State) and Vito Arujau (Conell) both out of their team’s lineups, Kai Orine earned the top seed and won the 133-pound bracket with a 5-0 record.

“Kai performed in a dominant fashion,” Popolizio said. “His style is unique, fun to watch, and he has a really good skill set no matter what position he is in. When you are the top seed, you have to go out and defend that. He did a phenomenal job doing that. 

In the final, Orine matched up with a red-hot freshman #11 Evan Frost from Iowa State. After a scoreless first, Orine opened things up in the second starting on top. He scored a two-point near-fall then a four-point near-fall to break open the match on his way to a 12-4 major decision.

“I think with Kai when he starts wrestling some of the better guys and he can separate that score, that is only going to work in his favor as we get towards the end of the year,” Popolizio said. 

Hidlay Ascends to #2 at 197 Pounds

Following his second straight championship at the Cliff Keen Invite — he won last year at 184 pounds — Trent Hidlay moved up to #2 in the national rankings at 197 pounds.

At the Cliff Keen, Hidlay was tested in the later bouts against a pair of top-10 foes, scoring a 10-2 major decision over returning All-American #6 Jacob Cardenas of Cornall before a gritty 5-2 win over #8 Jaxon Smith of Maryland in the final.

“Trent winning some different ways match-to-match was the takeaway of the weekend,” Popolizio said. “You look at every match he wrestled, he saw different body types and different (wrestling) styles.

“That was the whole point of going to this tournament — see where you stand when you have to wrestle back-to-back different types of wrestlers. He did a phenomenal job of adjusting and adapting.”

Great Scott, What a Run in the Consolations

Even with two individual titles, the NC State coaching staff might have come away from Las Vegas most excited about the performance of Ed Scott at 157 pounds, which many considered the toughest bracket.

After a disappointing upset in the second round, Scott scored six straight wins in the consolation bracket to finish third. In the three straight bouts to end his run, he took out #12 Trevor Chumbley of Northwestern (11-1 major), then back-to-back All-Americans in #6 Will Lewan (5-2) of Michigan and #5 Bryce Andonian of Virginia Tech (18-7 major).

“It speaks to the character of Ed, that if you have a letdown, you don’t dwell on it too much,” Popolizio said. “Coming back (after that loss) to finish third, was a really positive part of the season for him. 

“Ed is the kind of guy, that as the season goes on, he will get better and better,” Popolizio said. “The more mat time he gets, and him cleaning up some of the things he needs to focus on, you will continue to see positive results. He is going to be dangerous come March.”

Up Next

The second ranked Wolfpack will return to dual action on Dec. 19 at the Collegiate Wrestling Duals in Nashville. NC State will be matched up against Lock Haven, #16 Northern Iowa and #5 Ohio State.

This will be the third straight year the Pack has competed in the Collegiate Wrestling Duals, competing all three years the event has taken place. NC State is 5-1 all-time in this event.

“All of those teams have really good lineups across the board, and we are going to get tested,” Popolizio said. “But that is why we set the schedule the way we did for this year. We wanted a lot of good, hard, tough competition to really prepare us for March.”

Former Teammates, Now Top-5 Foes- Pack vs. Lock Haven

Many have noted the pure chaos at 125 pounds over the first month of the season, and one of the premier early-season battles in this crowded field will pit #2 Jakob Camacho vs. #5 Anthony Noto in the dual against Lock Haven.

Both have spent time at #1 this season. To add to the drama, both were also teammates at one time and competitors in the NC State practice room. Before he transferred to Lock Haven and went on to place in third at last year’s NCAAs, Noto spent a season in redshirt in 2020 with the Pack.

“This will be a great match for both of those guys,” Popolizio said. “We thought we were going to get this match last year, but we had to prolong it a year with Camacho being out. This weight class is really up for grabs this year. 

“This is a great opportunity for Camacho to see where he is out against a returning All-American who has had a really good career.”

Noto faced another former Wolfpack teammate last year when Camacho was injured and out for the season, scoring a takedown in OT to down Jarrett Trombley in a dual in November.

#1 Challenge Ahead For Fishback vs. Northern Iowa

Not only has redshirt freshman Dylan Fishback been thrown in the lineup, he has been thrown in the fire at 184 pounds.

The former top-10 recruit has faced one of the toughest schedules over the first month of the season, having faced six ranked foes in his first 13 matches in the starting lineup. Fishback already has claimed a pair of top-10 wins, including over #4 Trey Munoz of Oregon State en route to his seventh-place showing at the Cliff Keen.

Up next for Fishback, a battle against a returning national finalist and current #1 Parker Keckeisen of Northern Iowa.

“This is a great opportunity, you have to seize every moment and be ready for a battle,” Popolizio said. “This is one of the matches where you have to show up and be ready to compete. And make it a seven-minute hard-fought bout. This is only going to make (Dylan) better.”

Cliff Keen Finals Rematch For Jack vs. Ohio State

Current #3 Jesse Mendez and #4 Ryan Jack will look to meet up for the second time in two weeks, after they faced off in the championship bout at 141 pounds at the Cliff Keen. Mendez scored the bout’s lone takedown with 1:13 left and claimed a 5-2 win.

Another Cliff Keen rematch and top-10 battle will be at 149 pounds, as #6 Jackson Arrington takes on #5 Dylan D’Emilio. In Last Vegas, the quarterfinal matchup went to D’Emilio with the winning takedown in the final minute, 9-8.

“Both of those matches will be interesting,” Popolizio said. “What kind of adjustments will both sides make after having just faced each other? I’m confident our guys will make the correct adjustments, and we will see two more competitive matchups in these bouts.”

Those two top-10 battles could be just one of nine ranked vs. ranked matchups in the NC State-Ohio State dual. Only 165 pounds doesn’t feature both projected starters being ranked this week, as the two teams combined have 19 ranked wrestlers.