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In recent years, the ACC has established itself as arguably the toughest conference in the country behind the Big Ten, and this weekend, two top 20 duals will go down that the wrestling community should be paying close attention to.
#19 Virginia vs. #10 Virginia Tech
The 2021 version of the Commonwealth Clash will feature five top 25 matchups and 14 total ranked wrestlers. While Virginia Tech has won eight straight against the Cavaliers, this is one of the better teams Steve Garland has had in Charlottesville, with seven wrestlers currently ranked in the top 25.
133: #12 Louie Hayes (Virginia) vs. #7 Korbin Myers (Virginia Tech)
141: #24 Brian Courtney (Virginia) vs. #25 Sam Hillegas (Virginia Tech)
165: #12 Jake Keating (Virginia) vs. #1 Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech)
184: #25 Michael Battista (Virginia) vs. #2 Hunter Bolen (Virginia Tech)
285: #19 Quinn Miller (Virginia) vs. #20 John Borst (Virginia Tech)
The match I'm looking forward to the most is at 141, where Pennsylvania state champions Brian Courtney and Sam Hillegas will square off. Courtney is 4-1 on the year, with all four wins coming by tech fall or fall. His lone setback was a narrow 8-6 match with All-American Tariq Wilson. For the Hokies, true freshman Sam Hillegas has been outstanding and is a perfect 4-0 with two falls of his own.
We'll see plenty of rematches as well. Louie Hayes and Korbin Myers have met three times previously, with Myers coming out on top of all of the matches. Bryce Andonian came out on top against Denton Spencer last year, Hunter Bolen beat Michael Battista multiple times, and it was Quinn Miller coming out on top against John Borst in last year's dual.
Watch Lewis beat Vincenzo Joseph in the NCAA finals.
#14 Pittsburgh vs. #5 NC State
A little further south from Blacksburg, Pitt and NC State will clash in a battle of undefeated top 15 ranked teams. Four ranked matchups and 13 ranked wrestlers will be in action Friday night inside Reynolds Coliseum.
133: #5 Micky Phillippi (Pitt) vs. #16 Jarrett Trombley/ Ryan Jack (NC State)
141: #16 Cole Matthews (Pitt) vs. #11 Tariq Wilson (NC State)
165: #6 Jake Wentzel (Pitt) vs. #14 Thomas Bullard (NC State)
184: #19 Gregg Harvey (Pitt) vs. #3 Trent Hidlay (NC State)
This dual should be exciting from start to finish, and I'm particularly interested in 133 if true freshman Ryan Jack gets the start for NC State. Jack is 5-1 on the year, with his lone setback coming to Louie Hayes. Jack wrestles an exciting style, is a good scrambler, and is not afraid to score points. Micky Phillippi is also an excellent scrambler, a hammer on top, and will be a tough test for the young freshman.
141 with Cole Matthews and Tariq Wilson should be much of the same story. Matthews has a deadly cement mixer that opponents have to be aware of at all times. Wilson is an incredible scrambler and is accustomed to lighting up the scoreboard. So far this season, the fewest points Wilson has scored is eight, and he averages 13 points a match.
Thomas Bullard has struggled a little bit so far this season but beat Jake Wentzel twice last season. Will he get back on track Friday night?
It might not be a ranked matchup, but I'm excited to see Nick Reenan take on #5 Nino Bonaccorsi. When Reenan is on, we've seen him make Final X, but we've also seen him go 0-2 and 1-2 at the NCAA Championships. However, a week ago, he pushed #2 Jay Aiello to the brink. Bonaccorsi has adjusted to 197 well and is 4-0 with three bonus point wins on the young season.
Watch Phillippi beat Ethan Lizak in the CKLV semifinals.
Duke vs. #12 North Carolina
It's the most famous rivalry in college basketball, and on Friday night, the Tobacco Road rivalry hits the mat.
#7 Matt Finesilver (Duke) vs. #8 Devin Kane (North Carolina)
It has been a tough season for North Carolina has their New Year's Day, season-opening dual against Campbell was postponed, and then their big-time showdown against Virginia Tech was postponed just as the Hokies were getting on the bus to head to Chapel Hill.
However, the Tar Heels will be back Friday night and I'm excited to see how they look in their return to action. It looks like Austin O'Connor has jumped levels and will be a title contender in St. Louis. I was high on Julian Tagg coming out of high school and I'm interested to see him continue to impress. Kennedy Monday is always must-see TV every time he steps out on the mat as well.
Watch O'Connor beat Mitch Finesilver of Duke for third at the NCAA Championships.
If you can't watch Virginia-Virginia Tech or Pitt-NC State on Friday night, Christian Pyles and I will have you covered with live updates.