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Key Matchups for #5 Virginia Tech Wrestling Against #8 Ohio State

Caleb Henson 1 VT Cornell 2023 From VT
Photo Credit: Virginia Tech Athletics

Virginia Tech-Iowa wasn't the only top 10 showdown involving the Hokies this weekend as #5 Virginia Tech Wrestling hosts #8 Ohio State in a huge showdown to open the dual meet season for both programs. Tech is the favorite in a dual meet that features a lot of even matches that lean mostly towards the Hokies.

This dual meet presents a pair of top 10 matchups in addition to plenty of other interesting showdowns that could prove crucial in this dual meet. So with that said, here are my key matchups for the Hokies vs the Buckeyes.

149: #4 Caleb Henson vs #5 Dylan D'Emilio

Let's start with what is arguably the matchup of the night coming at 149 between #4 Caleb Henson and #5 Dylan D'Emilio.

Henson was a star as a freshman looking like a future national champion on his way to winning an ACC Championship at 149 and earning All-American honors at the NCAA Championships. Henson showed that he could compete with anyone in his weight class last year and even when he didn't have his best, he found ways to win against quality competition.

Meanwhile, D'Emillio has had an up and down career to date, but finished last season with a great run in NCAAs on his way to earning All-American honors. The question for D'Emilio is whether that was a somewhat flukish performance from him or if he has truly stepped his game up to being the upper tier.

This will be a good early season test for both of these wrestlers after winning opening weekend tournaments last week. Personally, I like Henson a lot in this matchup with Tech having a great chance to take three of the opening four matchups in this dual meet.

165: #16 Connor Brady vs #18 Bryce Hepner

This is another one of those swing matchups of many in this dual meet where the Hokies have the favorite even if it's very close. This may be a bigger toss-up than most with WrestleStat ranking Brady 26th compared to Hepner at 19th.

Brady and Hepner have actually faced each other before back in November of 2021 with Brady defeating Hepner 3-2 when both were still at 157. While this is a notable past result, it's hard to use this as a reliable data point.

Brady came to Virginia Tech with tons of hype and has had his moments becoming a solid, ranked wrestler who reached the finals of the ACC Championships at 165 last season. However, Brady hasn't been able to make that next jump yet to push or earn All-American honors, which the Hokies will be hoping he can do this year.

Meanwhile, Hepner has dealt with injuries since he faced Brady in November 2021 wrestling only four times last season as well, likely due to injuries as well along with being a backup. Being in a big time program likely means Hepner should be fairly sharp as a wrestler still, but it's another thing when you haven't wrestled in a high pressure dual meet in two years.

This feels like a toss-up matchup that could either help the Hokies open this dual meet up with a Brady victory or give Ohio State a path to victory with a Hepner win.

174: #3 Mekhi Lewis vs #7 Carson Kharchla

The other top 7 matchup in this dual meet pits former 165 national champion Mekhi Lewis against #7 Carson Kharchla who had a disappointing 2023 NCAAs after earning All-American honors in 2022, moving up to 174 from 165 this offseason.

Lewis came back for his final year of eligibility in what was a major boost for a Tech wrestling lineup that has a great chance to achieve its highest finish in NCAAs in program history after returning five 2023 All-Americans. Lewis has been among the best at 174 since jumping up, but hasn't been able to break through for his second national championship just yet with this being it.

Kharchla has had a very good career, but this is his first matchup against a high-level opponent since making the jump to 174 this offseason. It can be an adjustment sometimes for guys when they jump up a weight class and are no longer bigger than most their opponents. Still, Kharchla should give Lewis a quality test in what could be an important matchup in this dual meet.

Something to monitor going into this dual meet is the health of Kharchla after he had to take a medical forfeit twice last week in the Clarion Open. Even if healthy, Lewis is rightly the favorite in this big time matchup.

HWT: #16 Hunter Catka vs #20 Nick Feldman

If this heavyweight matchup is the last one, there's a good chance that the stakes will be low and Virginia Tech already has the dual meet wrapped up. Even if they do, this has the potential to be a thrilling matchup between a pair of former top heavyweight wrestler recruits in Hunter Catka and Nick Feldman.

Catka came to Virginia Tech as a major recruiting victory for the Hokies and someone who could have a Ty Walz type career at worst. So far, Catka has qualified for a pair of NCAA Championships and been consistently ranked, but hasn't developed into the star many thought he could.

He still does have three years of eligibility remaining thanks in part to his true freshman season being the COVID free year with Catka redshirting the year after in 2021-22. This will be a big test for Catka taking on another former top heavyweight recruit who is a couple years younger but has just as much promise as Catka had when he got to Blacksburg. This is a matchup where you want to see the experience Catka has shine through and growth in his craft.

If not, it makes you wonder how much Catka is the future at heavyweight, especially with his backup being true freshman Jimmy Mullen, the #1 heavyweight wrestling recruit in the 2023 class.

After Feldman redshirted last season, the #3 wrestler in the 2022 class per WrestleStat put on a show last weekend at the Clarion Open with five victories, three of which were tech falls. While the competition wasn't the toughest, Feldman dominated in a way that suggests he could quickly emerge as a new star in his weight class.

This will be a big early season test for Catka to see if he can take the next steps and start ascending towards an All-American level.

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