ACC Championship Preview & Predictions

ACC Championship Preview & Predictions

Previewing the 2021 ACC Wrestling Championships.

Feb 26, 2021 by Andrew Spey

It didn't happen overnight, but the ACC has made gains in recent years to become arguably the second-toughest conference in the NCAA despite having just six teams. 

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It didn't happen overnight, but the ACC has made gains in recent years to become arguably the second-toughest conference in the NCAA despite having just six teams. 

Let's compare the current team tournament standings between the ACC and the Big 12.

Top 5 teams: ACC 2; Big12 0

Top 15 teams: ACC 3; Big12 2

Top 26 teams: ACC 5; Big12 5

Okay, so we cherry-picked a little, but still, the point remains, the ACC is incredibly strong from top two bottom. Virginia Tech and NC State will be battling for a team trophy, Pitt, UNC & UVA are striving for a top 10 finish, and Duke is still dealing with an administration that refuses to provide the program with scholarships despite the sport of wrestling being humanity's most noble and character-building endeavor. 

Two team trophies for the ACC would be a tremendous accomplishment, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the season. But even if no ACC team lands in the top 4, the Atlantic Coast is likely going to put up results that can be used as yet more evidence that wrestling is slowly but surely expanding its presence into the southeast. 

Below is a weight-by-weight breakdown of the 10 weights, (here are brackets, by the way), with predictions on who is going to snag the 35 automatic qualifiers to the NCAA Championships that are available. FloWrestling national rankings and the 2nd coaches' poll rankings are in the last two columns of the tables.

125 Pounds - 3 AQs

1Sam LatonaVirginia Tech23
2Jakob CamachoNC State35
3Colton CamachoPitt
4Patrick McCormickVirginia

5Will GuidaNorth Carolina

6Login AginDuke

Whether or not Latona and Camacho live up to their lofty rankings will be decided in St Louis. They will be very heavy favorites to meet in the finals, where Jakob will look to reserve the results from their last two meetings. 

It's also worth noting that Sam Latona is originally from Alabama, showing that the ACC is not only a conduit for bringing wrestlers from Northern states to the South, but also for providing opportunities for wrestlers already from south of the Mason-Dixon line to wrestle closer to home. 

Colton Camacho (no relation to Jakob) will likely see Pat McCormick in the third place bout in a 'go-to' match with an NCAA bid on the line. Camacho won earlier this season in a dual meet. 

Predictions: 1) Latona, VT; 2) Camacho NCSU; 3) Camacho, Pitt


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133 Pounds - 4 AQs 

1Micky PhillippiPitt44
2Korbin MyersVirginia Tech66
3Joe HeilmannNorth Carolina
4Louie HayesVirginia910
5Jarrett TrombleyNC State1011
6Drake DoolittleDuke

One of the deepest weights in the ACC, where there are five extremely deserving wrestlers and unfortunately only four AQs available. More on the NCAA AQ Allocation process here

Jamie Hernandez is ranked 8th nationally, but the Tar Heels are going with Joe Heilmann as their starters, which probably shouldn't come as a big surprise as Heilmann got the most recent starts in North Carolina's final dual meets. 

Korbin Myers is hoping to qualify for his fourth NCAA tournament. He's yet to reach the All-American round, losing in the round of 24 twice while at Edinboro and reaching the round of 16 two years ago after transferring to Virginia Tech. Injuries kept Myers out of the lineup all last season. 

The go-to matches will be in the consolation round. Assuming Heilmann beats Doolittle and then loses to Myers, he'll see whoever loses the Hayes vs Trombley quarterfinal bout. Hayes beat Trombley in the 2020 ACCs. If he repeats that feat in 2021 he'll be in the semis. A loss to Phillippi will send him to a consi bout with Doolittle and would make a Trombley vs Heilmann go-to bout a likely possibility. Trombley majored Heilmann back in 2019. 

I'll use that sequence of events for the predictions, but a Trombley victory over Hayes in the quarters would mean Heilmann and Hayes would be in the go-to consi bout, and Heilmann beat Hayes 2-0 just a couple of weeks ago.

So don't put too much stock in these predictions. Phillipp and Myers are heavy favorites to qualify, whereas Hayes, Trombley & Heilmann all have a close to an equal chance of earning one of those two remaining bids. 

Predictions: 1) Myers, VT; 2) Phillippi, Pitt; 3) Hayes, UVA; 4) Trombley, NCSU


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141 Pounds - 3 AQs

1Tariq WilsonNC State88
2Zach ShermanNorth Carolina99
3Brian CourtneyVirginia1414
4Cole MatthewsPitt1518
5Sam HillegasVirginia Tech2422
6Patrick RowlandDuke

Another weight class where the ACC is deep and there are not enough AQs to go around. 

The first pivotal bout will be Hillegas vs Matthews in the quarters. Hillegas lost to Courtney earlier in a dual, and if doesn't beat Matthews he will likely have to go through Courtney in the consolation rounds just to get to the third-place bout, which is the other go-to match after the semifinals. 

Hopefully, the at-large selection committee will have enough extra bids to get all five top 25 wrestlers from the ACC to St Louis. 

Predictions: 1) Wilson, NCSU; 2) Sherman, UNC; 3) Courtney, UVA


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149 Pounds - 3 AQs

1Austin O’ConnorNorth Carolina22
2Bryce AndonianVirginia Tech128
3Ed ScottNC State
4Josh FinesilverDuke
5Denton SpencerVirginia

6Mick BurnettPitt

Austin O'Connor is one of the stars of the tournament. He's one of a select few wrestlers in the conference to have climbed the All-American podium steps, having finished third in 2019 as a redshirt freshman. Last year, AOC amassed a 25-1 record and earned the #2 seed going into the canceled 2020 NCAA tournament. He will be the heavy favorite to win his second ACC Championship. 

With Pitt's Luke Kemerer not in the mix, Ed Scott earns the #3 seed at this tournament by dint of a head-to-head over Josh Finesilver. That will give him an edge to make it to the third-place bout and give him a shot at snagging the final AQ.

Once again we have a surfeit of quality competitors and a deficit of AQs. If Denton Spencer or Mick Burnett pull off a couple of upsets and finish third, it's going to dig a deep hole for either Scott or Finesilver to climb out of with an at-large bid. 

Predictions: 1) O'Connor, UNC; 2) Andonian, VT; 3) Scott, NCSU


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157 Pounds - 4 AQs

1Hayden HidlayNC State22
2Justin McCoyVirginia2116
3Connor BradyVirginia Tech
4Josh McClureNorth Carolina
5Brandon LaRueDuke


Hayden Hidlay is another of the ACC's big guns. He's finished second and fourth at the 2018 and 2019 NCAA Championships respectively. He earned the second seed going into the canceled 2020 NCAAs. There is a reason the Mifflin County, PA native is #12 on the national pound-for-pound rankings. He should win fourth ACC title convincingly. 

With Pitt unfortunately not entering a competitor and four AQs up for grabs, the only other drama in this bracket is the quarterfinal bout between McLure and LaRue. These two didn't meet in the regular season. The winner will automatically qualify for the NCAAs. The loser will have to beat either Brady or McCoy, to whom both McClure and LaRue lost in dual meets. 

Also of note, a majority of the wrestlers in this bracket will have two capital letters in their last name. So that's neat.

Predictions: 1) Hidlay, NCSU; 2) McCoy, UVA; 3) Brady, VT; 4) McClure, UNC


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165 Pounds - 4 AQs

1Jake WentzelPitt66
2Mekhi LewisVirginia Tech12
3Jake KeatingVirginia109
4Kennedy MondayNorth Carolina1110
5Thomas BullardNC State1317
6Eric CarterDuke

Mekhi Lewis will be the only NCAA champion in the building this weekend. We didn't ding Lewis in the rankings for his injury default to Wentzel but we get why, for seeding purposes, that result counts for the ACCs. 

We're still scratching our heads on exactly how the coaches' poll decided to factor in that injury default result (Mekhi gets dinged but just a little, and Wentzel gets little to no credit for the win?), but that's neither here nor there. 

What is of paramount importance to the wrestlers in this bracket is securing one of those 4 AQs. If Lewis is healthy and ready to wrestle after his injury default, things will be more difficult for the field, as there are 5 All-American contenders looking for 4 bids. 

If Lewis takes the mat and then immediately injury defaults/med forfeits out of the tournament and relies on an at-large bid (which he'll get), it'll make things easier for the four other ranked wrestlers. Otherwise, it'll be a battle in the consolation semis and it's anyone's guess how it turns out. 

Bullard beat Wentzel, Wentzel beat Monday and Keating, Keating beat Monday and Bullard, and Monday beat Bullard. Suffice it to say, anyone is capable of beating anyone in this bracket. 

Predictions: 1) Lewis, VT; 2) Wentzel, Pitt; 3) Keating, UVA; 4) Monday, UNC

If Lewis doesn't wrestle: 1) Wentzel, Pitt, 2) Keating, UVA; 3) Monday, UNC; 4) Bullard, NCSU

174 Pounds - 3 AQs

1Daniel BullardNC State138
2Clay LauttNorth Carolina1414
3Victor MarcelliVirginia
4Dakota HowardVirginia Tech

5Jared McGillPitt

6Conor BeckerDuke

The Tar Heels had Clay Lautt and Devin Kane switch weights mid-way through the season and it looks like it'll work out in their favor in both instances. Howard beat Kane, but is going to be seeded below Marcelli and Lautt due to Lautt's head-to-head win over Marcelli and Marcelli's head-to-head win over Howard. 

Howard will have to go through McGill (who he teched) and Bullard (who he lost to 0-6) to get an AQ via reaching the finals. Marcelli will have to go through Becker (who he beat 6-3) and then Lautt (who he lost to 1-7) to reach the finals. 

Assuming we get all chalk it'll be Marcelli vs Howard in a go-to bout for third. The last time they met it was a 6-4 win for Marcelli. Should be a good one if we see it again. 

Also interesting that both Bullard twins are ranked at the same spot in the national rankings, but Daniel gets the #1 seed whereas Thomas gets seeded 5th. Just another neat fact imo. 

Predictions: 1) Bullard, NCSU; 2) Lautt, UNC; 3) Marcelli, UVA

184 Pounds - 3 AQs

1Hunter BolenVirginia Tech11
2Trent HidlayNC State23
3Devin KaneNorth Carolina2123
4Michael BattistaVirginia1920
5Gregg HarveyPitt2224
6Vincent BakerDuke

Another weight class tragically short on AQs. Well, perhaps it's not quite a tragedy, but its definitely less than ideal to have five top 25 wrestlers fighting over a measly three bids. 

Bolen and Hidlay will want to make sure they're not looking ahead to NCAAs, but they should see each other in a repeat of the 2020 ACC finals. Bolen won that match and the other 2 matches against Hidlay over the last two seasons. 

Kane will have pole position for the third and final AQ, but like so many other divisions, it's all about the consolation rounds. Harvey lost to both Kane and Battista, so odds are we'll see Kane and Battista in the third-place bout with a trip to St Louis on the line. 

Predictions: 1) Bolen, VT; 2) Hidaly, NCSU; 3) Kane, UNC


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197 Pounds - 3 AQs

1Nino BonaccorsiPitt58
2Jay AielloVirginia811
3Max ShawNorth Carolina1719
4Nick ReenanNC State
5Andy SmithVirginia Tech

6Kaden RussellDuke

A couple of last-minute audibles, as senior Nick Reenan gets the start over true frosh phenom Isaac 'T-Rums' Trumble for the Wolfpack and Andy Smith will start over Stanley Smeltzer for the Hokies.

Bonaccorsi and Aiello will be the favorites to make the finals, but anything can happen at this weight class. For example, Kaden Russell pinned Isaac Trumble, and Trumble beat Nino Bonaccorsi, who is the #1 seed. So don't take any finish for granted. 

With just three spots on the line, we once again look to the consolation rounds for the most excitement. Nino vs Aiello would be an excellent finals bout as well, featuring two very strong AA contenders, it would just be a match we've already seen (Nino won 7-5) and only relevant for NCAA seeding, rather than qualification. 

Predictions: 1) Bonaccorsi, Pitt; 2) Aiello, UVA; 3) Shaw, UNC


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285 Pounds - 4 AQs

1Deonte WilsonNC State2215
2Quinn MillerVirginia2319
3Hunter CatkaVirginia Tech

4Andrew GunningNorth Carolina
5Austin CooleyPitt

6Jonah NiesenbaumDuke

For once, the conference has ample AQs to accommodate all their ranked wrestlers at a weight class. 

The margins are thin, but Wilson has separated himself from the rest of the conference, going undefeated in dual meets, beating both Miller and Gunning. 

Miller has just the loss to Wilson on the season, and beat Catka, who got the call late from the Tech coaching staff that had originally tabbed John Borst as their starter. 

Pitt had several options to choose from but opted for Cooley, who spent most of the season down at 197. An opening-round quarterfinal upset over the full-sized heavyweight in Gunning will mean he'll likely be able to qualify by beating Nisenbaum in the consi semifinals. Otherwise, expect it to be chalk with the top 4 seeds punching their tickets to Nationals.

Predictions: 1) Wilson, NCSU; 2) Miller, UVA; 3) Gunning, UVA; 4) Catka, VT

As for the team race? Well if everything goes according to the seeds it will look exactly like this.

I suspect it will be a close one no matter what. Every match is going to matter. Should be fun, can't wait!