The Virginia Tech wrestling team put together a solid team performance at the ACC Wrestling Championships Sunday in Raleigh, finishing in second place as a team with two individual champions via Mekhi Lewis and Caleb Henson, and nine of their ten wrestlers stepping up on the podium.
The Hokies made their first appearance of the day in the 141 weight class quarterfinal with No. 4 Tom Crook facing off against UVA’s No. 5 Dylan Cedeno. Crook became the first Tech wrestler to move on with a 4-2 decision over Cedeno, setting up a semifinal bout between Crook and Pitt’s No. 1 Cole Matthews.
Next up was No. 4 Connor Brady hitting the mat against UNC’s No. 5 Joey Mazzara in the 165 quarterfinal. In a bout that was locked up at 1-1 entering the final minute of the third round, Brady saw an opportunity and took it. Brady secured a takedown with under 30 seconds to go to punch his ticket to the semifinals with a 3-1 decision over Mazzara. Brady would later square off against Pitt’s No. 1 Holden Heller.
No. 3 Hunter Catka would be the only other Hokie wrestler in the quarters, as he took on UVA’s No. 6 Ethan Weatherspoon in the heavyweight class. It was pure domination all the way through from Catka, winning by tech fall 16-0. He continued the hot start for Tech as all three of their wrestlers who didn't receive byes reached the semifinals with Catka set to face #2 Owen Trephan of NC State. Tech also earned 4.5 points from these opening victories with Catka's tech fall providing some bonus points.
The Hokies kicked off their semifinal bouts in the 125 weight class with No. 2 Eddie Ventresca going at it with UNC’s No. 3 Jack Wagner. Despite a late takedown attempt from Wagner, Ventresca was able to hold on to win. The 3-2 decision sent Ventresca to the finals where he’d square off with NC State’s No. 1 Jarrett Trombley.
Following the Ventresca win, two Hokies dropped bouts in No. 2 Sam Latona and No. 4 Tom Crook, sending them to the consolation bracket.
With No. 1 Caleb Henson taking the mat in the 149 semis, the Hokies got back on the right track. The freshman earned a 2-0 decision over UNC’s No. 5 Zach Sherman, sending him to the ACC finals as a true freshman.
No. 2 Bryce Andonian started his day with a convincing 15-9 win over NC State’s No. 3 Ed Scott in the 157 semis, temporarily silencing the host crowd. Andonian advanced to the finals, seeking to avenge his only loss of the season against UNC’s No. 1 Austin O’Connor.
A tough test awaited No. 4 Connor Brady in the 165 semis, as he squared off against Pitt’s No. 1 Holden Heller. The top-seeded Heller didn’t faze the freshman, as Brady pulled off what would be the biggest upset of the day thus far, advancing to the finals with a 7-5 decision.
Next up was No. 1 Mekhi Lewis in the 174 class, looking to advance over UVA’s No. 5 Vic Marcelli to head to the final with a chance to defend his 2022 ACC crown. He did just that, securing a 15-3 major decision over Marcelli, setting up a date in the finals with NC State’s No. 2 Alex Faison.
Tech struggled in the next two bouts, as No. 2 Hunter Bolen suffered a heart-breaking loss in the 184 semis. UNC’s No. 3 Gavin Kane got a last second takedown, taking the 4-3 decision. Bolen headed to the consolation bracket to compete for third place.
No. 2 Andy Smith also headed to the consolation bracket, as he dropped the 197 semifinal bout against NC State’s No. 3 Isaac Trumble in a 6-1 decision.
It was quite the finish to the semifinal round in the 285 weight class between No. 3 Hunter Catka and NC State’s No. 2 Owen Trephan, but one that ultimately would not swing the Hokies way.
Tied 1-1 after regulation and sudden death, the heavyweight bout went to the tiebreaker round. In the first 30 seconds, Catka got an escape in six seconds, a mark that seemed hard to beat. In the following 30 seconds, Trephan escaped in the first five and held on to top Catka, 2-1. It was a tough loss that sent Tech’s heavyweight to the consolation semis.
By the end of the semifinal round, Tech had sent five of its ten wrestlers to the finals with the other half still with a chance to compete for a spot on the podium. Tech had earned 49.5 points through the first two rounds, trailing NC State with a team score of 70.5 points.
In the consolation bracket, No. 4 Tom Crook got things started in the 141 consolation semifinals with a thrilling 3-1 overtime decision over Duke’s No. 6 Jarred Papscy, punching his ticket to the third-place bout as well as earning a bid to the NCAA Championships in Tulsa, OK.
The next bout featured No. 2 Sam Latona and UNC’s No. 4 Jace Palmer in the 133 consolation semis. Latona earned a 10-6 decision and moved on to the consolation finals.
The Hokies consolation bracket success continued, as No. 2 Hunter Bolen, No. 2 Andy Smith and No. 3 Hunter Catka all moved on to compete in their respective third-place bouts.
No. 2 Sam Latona took home third as he took care of Duke’s No. 6 Logan Agin in a 13-2 major decision. Latona also earned a trip to Tulsa with the victory.
No. 4 Tom Crook lost in the 141 third-place bout, but was followed up by back-to-back third-place finishes as both No. 2 Hunter Bolen and No. 2 Andy Smith earned spots on the podium in their respective bouts.
No. 3 Hunter Catka became the fourth Hokie to earn the third-place spot on the podium, defeating UVA’s No. 6 Ethan Weatherspoon in the heavyweight consolation finals.
Heading into the final bouts, Tech remained in second with a team score of 72 points behind NC State’s 87.5.
The record-breaking 3,834 fans in attendance made their way back to their seats for the finals that evening as No. 4 Connor Brady looked to cap off his run to the 165 finals with a victory over UVA’s No. 2 Justin McCoy. Despite a valiant effort, Brady fell short as McCoy took home the ACC crown with a narrow 3-2 decision.
The buzz filled the arena as No. 1 Mekhi Lewis took the mat with a chance to earn back-to-back ACC titles against NC State’s No. 2 Alex Faison in the 174 finals. In a low-scoring bout, Lewis and Faison headed to tiebreakers tied at one after regulation and sudden victory.
Lewis took bottom for the first 30 seconds of the tiebreaker and secured an escape in 14 seconds. Faison came close to beating that mark in the second 30, but Lewis held on to secure his second straight ACC crown with a gritty 2-1 decision.
“It feels good,” Lewis said. “I went through adversity last year and I’ve been going through adversity this year with my whole body. It’s all about your mindset and mentality.”
No. 2 Eddie Ventresca faced off against NC State’s No. 2 Jarrett Trombley in the 125 finals in yet another overtime bout, but one that went the way of the Wolfpack this time around.
Trombley secured a takedown in the overtime period, giving him the 3-1 decision. Nonetheless a solid campaign for the Hokies redshirt freshman, earning second place.
The Hokies star freshman in No. 1 Caleb Henson took the mat in the 149-pound final against NC State’s Jackson Arrington, and despite a low-scoring bout, the result was never in question. Henson earned the ACC crown in a 4-2 decision. Despite the win, the freshman has his eyes set higher.
“This was a building bridge to Tulsa,” Henson said. “My eyes are really set on the national championship so no matter how I did here, the goal is to get on top of that podium in Tulsa.”
The last bout of the night came in the 157 final between No. 2 Bryce Andonian and UNC’s No. 1 Austin O’Connor. Andonian put everything he had left in the tank out on the mat, but couldn’t quite get the job done as O’Connor won in a 6-5 decision.
Virginia Tech finished the day in second place with a solid day overall on the mat, as all ten wrestlers qualified for the NCAA Championships and can set their sights fully on Tulsa.