Over the past few years, Virginia Tech and NC State have developed college wrestling's biggest rivalry outside of the Rust Belt and greater Midwest. For the third-straight year, the matchup between the Hokies and NC State will determine the ACC Dual Meet champion.
VT won this matchup in 2016 and 2017, but NC State enters tonight's showdown as the higher-ranked program and favorite given that this match should be in a packed Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh tonight. However, that was also the case in 2016 when the Hokies upset a third-ranked NC State team in Raleigh on their way to winning the ACC Dual Meet title.
Tonight's showdown will have five matchups between wrestlers who are currently ranked, leaving almost no margin for error for either's team wrestlers. This is the dual meet that both programs have had circled on their calendar for months especially in a season in which North Carolina is the only other ranked ACC program.
With that said, here are some key matchups for tonight's showdown.
The first ranked matchup of the night comes at 133 between Hokie veteran Dennis Gustafson and NC State's star freshman Tariq Wilson. This matchup could be decisive in determining seeding for the ACC Championships with Wilson the likely 3 seed and Gustafson likely the 4 seed at the moment.
This is a very interesting matchup in part because of the age and ranking difference. While Wilson is the higher-ranked wrestler, there is something to be said about experience which Gustafson brings to the table in this matchup.
Based on the rankings, VT will need a couple upsets in order to take down NC State and this is one of those opportunities for Virginia Tech. Wilson has shown a high ceiling upsetting UVA's Jack Mueller (ranked 9th) while Gustafson has found some rhythm winning three-straight matches. Wilson has a bright future, but Gustafson brings the experience that will make this matchup interesting and one to watch.
Ryan Blees has been one of the hottest wrestlers in the ACC winning two ACC Wrestlers of the Week since moving down to 149 and forcing former All-American Solomon Chishko up to 157. Blees has been on fire at 149 with only 1 loss at the new weight class along with six-straight wins highlighted by a win over UNC's eighth-ranked Troy Heilmann.
Meanwhile, Beau Donahue has been solid with only three losses at 149 including a loss to Heilmann last weekend. Before that loss to Heilmann, Donahue was undefeated in 2018 including a win over Oklahoma State's 14th-ranked Boo Lewallen.
This is another matchup where the Hokies will need to pull what would be an upset in terms of the rankings, but may not be in terms of recent performance especially with the tear that Blees has been on. If Blees does upset Donahue, he will have a strong case to be the #1 seed at 149 at the upcoming ACC Championships.
The closing stretch of this dual meet is set up to be dramatic with three-straight ranked showdowns including two top 10 showdowns starting with this one between Zavatsky and Renda. Zavatsky has had a few losses, but they've almost all come to wrestlers ranked above him. Zavatsky has also won 12-straight matches with 11 of those victories being at least a major decision including a pin against Duke.
However, Renda has been as good as he could be bringing an unbeaten record into this matchup. Renda has emerged as one of the top national title contenders this season at 184 and is on course to be the #1 seed at 184 in the ACC Championships unless Zavatsky upsets him.
This will be Zavatsky's toughest test of the season, but Zavatsky also appears to be in his best run of form bringing his 12-straight victories with him to Raleigh. If Zavatsky can pull off the upset, the Hokies will be in great shape to win their third-straight ACC Dual Meet title.
Jared Haught has been dominant this season with only two losses including one that came against Missouri's fourth-ranked Willie Miklus who Haught was pinned by after taking risks to get a major decision that would have given VT a chance at the win. Haught's only other loss came against Kollin Moore in Vegas, but Haught has been exceptional since then, building a case to be the top-ranked guy especially after Moore recently had a loss.
Tonight, Haught will get his chance to prove that he should be the top-ranked wrestler against NC State's Mike Macchiavello in a showdown of seniors. Macchiavello has only one loss and a few wins over ranked 197 wrestlers, but Haught will be the toughest test for Macchiavello this season.
This is a match that Virginia Tech clearly needs to get and Haught has stepped up time and time again when VT needs him to. If Haught has a dominant victory over Macchiavello, he should have a good chance at jumping Ohio State's Kollin Moore for the top spot at 197.
It could all come down to this matchup between Andrew Dunn and Michael Boykin for the ACC Dual Meet title. Dunn and Boykin are the closest-ranked wrestlers in any matchup tonight, and should provide for an intense battle between two heavyweights who enter this match in different spots.
Dunn has faced a lot of tough competition recently and has had some struggles losing five-straight matches before beating UVA's Tyler Love last weekend. Meanwhile, Michael Boykin has only wrestled twice since the early January Southern Scuffle but has victories in both matches.
These two wrestlers faced off at the beginning of the season in the Journeyman Collegiate Classic with Dunn beating Boykin via a sudden victory. This match has the potential to be just as close as that one with Dunn potentially looking to spoil NC State's hopes of finally prevailing in ACC Dual Meet season.
If it comes down to this match, it should be a thrilling finish in a season in which the margin between these two teams appears as close as ever.
Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
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