One of collegiate wrestling great rivalries resumes tonight as the #8 Vitginia Tech Hokies host the#5 NC State Wolfpack. Though this dual meet comes on the opening night of ACC dual meet season, it's pretty clear that once again, tonight will decide who wins the ACC dual meet title.
On paper, this looks like a dual meet where bonus points or an upset one way or the other may be the difference as these two are once again fairly evenly matched.
So with that said, here are our key matchups to watch for the Hokies vs the Wolfpack.
141: #12 Tom Crook vs #6 Ryan Jack
After Ryan Jack beat Tom Crook 8-2 at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitatiobal earlier this season, Crook gets his chance at revenge tonight while also knowing that a win here coild prove decisive for the Hokies but a loss doesn't do much harm to Tech's hopes of victory.
Crook has had his ups and downs this season, but bounced back from a disappointing major decision loss to Cornell's #16 Vince Cornella but followed that with a tech fall win in DC and a solid victory at App State last week. He's 13-4 on the season though with some quality wins against #13 Lachlan McNeil of North Carolina, #15 Parker Filius of Purdue, #22 Jesse Vasquez of Arizona State, and #25 Matt Kazimir of Columbia which is a solid collection of wins.
However, tonight is an opportunity for Crook to make a statement that he can be an All-American as a true freshman for the Hokies. His current collections of wins is very good, but he has had some inconsistency at times this season that you would expect from a true freshman going through the gauntlet for the first time. Meanwhile, Jack is a little more experienced and will definitely be ready for the showdown and the pressure of this rivalry.
The good news in some ways is that Crook isn't in a pressure to win spot as one of those 5 dual meets (only 4 if Bryce Andonian can wrestle tonight) who is ranked lower than his oopponent. Getting a steal here would be huge for the Hokies' hopes and put NC State on their heels to say the least.
The question is can Crook avenge his Vegas loss to Jack tonight? If so, it'll send a massive statement that like his fellow star freshman Caleb Henson, he can be an All-American this year.
149: #9 Caleb Henson vs #15 Jackson Arrington
This matchup has produced plenty of great rivalries over the years including Hunter Bolen against the Hidlay Brothers, Sam Latona vs Jakob Camacho, Ty Walz vs Nick Gwiazdowski, and many more.
Well tonight should give birth to a new one at 149 between 2 of the highest ranked freshmen in the country at that weight class, #9 Caleb Henson of Virginia Tech and #15 Jackson Arrington of NC State.
Henson has been phenomenal as a freshman getting better and better as the season has progressed. He also has tons of momentum going into tonight after beating two-time All-American and four-time SoCon champion Jonathan Millner of Appaplachian State last week earning ACC Wrestler of the Week honors for his performance.
Both have faced some tough competition this season, but Henson is definitely more proven against it with wins over #3 Sammy Sasso of Ohio State, #10 Millner, #23 Quinn Kinner of Rider, and former Hokie, #28 Sam Hillegas of West Virginia. Meanwhile, Arrington has some good wins including over #21 Chance Lamer of Michigan and #22 Dom Demas of Cal Poly, but he also lost to Millner twice and hasn't reached the same heights as Henson to date.
This is one where Henson is the favorite and a closely ranked one that the Hokies need to win to stay on track for victory given the matchups. While that may add a little pressure for Henson, he's risen to the occasion again and again throughout the season so far and can absolutely do so again tonight.
184: #7 Hunter Bolen vs #3 Trent Hidlay
For the final time in a dual meet, Hunter Bolen will take on a Hidlay brother in a matchup where a victory for Bolen could prove decisive against his NC State rival. These are also the only 2 in the top 10 nationally at 184 in the ACC so odds are that we'll be seeing a rematch later on this spring.
Bolen and Hidlay have consistently produced thrilling dual meets where usually there is only one takedown at most and riding time being decisive or the dual going to sudden victory is likely. Given the stakes of this match for determining the winner especially for a Wolfpack team that could use this one, it should be another absolute thriller.
Bolen is 3-2 all-time vs Hidlay though the NC State won their lone matchup last season 2-1. However, Bolen has been in much better form this season after a disappointing 2021-22 with a 15-2 record with his only losses coming against #5 Kaleb Romero of Ohio State who he beat in their third matchup in sudden victory. Meanwhile, Hidlay is 14-1 with his only loss coming against #2 Parker Keckeisen of Northern Iowa who he beat in their first of two matchups this season.
Like Crook vs Jack, this is one of Tech's steal opportunities to get to the 6 match win mark for the team on the night that would make the difference for the Hokies and help Tech likely secure at least 1 of the 2 ACC titles in Bolen's final season.
This has all the makings of another thriller and it wouldn't be surprising if this dual meet starts at 197 instead if 125 to set up this match as the decisive battle this evening.