With the ACC Wrestling Championships set for Saturday at Comcast Center, I will be previewing each weight class in three installments leading up to the weekend. Today, 125 through 141 are under the microscope.
These three weight classes are arguably the most competitive in the conference with eight wrestlers currently ranked nationally by InterMat including Maryland's Geoffrey Alexander at 133. Alexander checks in at No. 12 in the poll.
The NCAA released its qualifier allocations for the national championships on Friday and the ACC's star-studded lineup at the lower weight classes was rewarded. Of the 30 total automatic qualifiers the ACC received, 13 are allocated to 125-141.
At 133, the ACC received five qualifier spots; only the Big Ten received more (7). And at 125 and 141, the ACC received four automatics. In all, 13 of the 18 wrestlers competing on Saturday will automatically earn a trip to Des Moines to compete for a national title.
The 125-pound weight class is talent laden with three wrestlers ranked nationally in the top 10 and the Terrapins' Shane Gentry who was ranked as high as No. 13 earlier in the season.
Seeding for the championships is scheduled to be released Wednesday and an argument can be made for North Carolina's seventh-ranked Nathan Kraisser or Virginia Tech's fifth-ranked Jarrod Garnett to be the top seed. Kraisser's record in ACC duals was unblemished and the freshman knocked off Garnett by a 9-2 margin when the Tar Heels and Hokies faced off on Jan. 19. But Garnett defeated Kraisser at the Hokie Open on Nov. 4 and won the 125-pound title at the prestigious Midlands Championships.
Either way, it is a safe assumption Kraisser and Garnett will receive byes to the semifinal round. The favorites to meet them there are Gentry and Virginia's Matt Snyder. Gentry should earn the three seed after going 2-2 in ACC competition including a win over ninth-ranked Snyder when the Terps and Cavs met on Feb. 1.
Gentry currently stands at 16-10 and has faced one of the toughest schedules on the Terrapin squad this season. The junior has faced eight wrestlers ranked in the top 20 nationally including three of the top five wrestlers in the country. Gentry finished runner up last season and will be eager to win his first conference crown on Saturday.
NC State's Joe De'Angelo and Duke's Peter Terrezza should round out the bracket.
This weight class is headlined by Alexander and features three nationally-ranked wrestlers. A league-high five automatic qualifier spots will be awarded at 133 on Saturday.
Alexander is ranked 12th, Virginia's George DiCamillo is ranked 15th, and Virginia Tech's Eric Spjut is ranked 18th. Despite the proximity in the rankings, Alexander had little trouble defeating DiCamillo and Spjut in dual action. Alexander earned a 9-1 major decision over Spjut on Jan. 25, and one week later pinned DiCamillo 31 seconds into the match.
The sophomore enters the tournament at 21-7 and was a perfect 5-0 in ACC action. After finishing second a year ago, Alexander enters as one of the hottest wrestlers on the squad. Since Jan. 12, Alexander is 11-1 with four pins. His lone defeat came in a close 4-1 decision against seventh-ranked Nathan McCormick of Missouri. Alexander is second on the team in pins (8) and led the team with 58 bonus points in dual action.
Along with Alexander, DiCamillo should receive a first-round bye. DiCamillo went 4-1 in conference action and defeated Spjut twice this season, once when the two teams met in ACC action and once at the Virginia Duals.
UNC will likely enter Joey Ward. Ward wrestled in four of the five ACC duals compiling a 2-2 record. He has spent most of the season ranked in the top 20 reaching No. 17 on Jan. 1. Ward has split two meetings with Spjut this season. Ward defeated Spjut in a tiebreaker at the Hokie Open, but lost the rematch by a 6-5 margin on Jan. 19 in a dual meet.
Duke's Brandon Gambucci and NC State's Sam Spero will round out the bracket, but the seeding could be up for debate. Spero did not win an ACC dual this season including a 5-0 decision to Gambucci in the final conference matchup of the season. But in December, Spero took third at the Reno Tournament of Champions, which included a victory over 20th-ranked Ian Nickell of CSU Bakersfield.
UNC's Evan Henderson and VT's Zach Neibert enter Saturday as the favorites to emerge with the 141 title. Henderson is ranked sixth nationally and is 31-6. Neibert, who missed most of the ACC schedule due to injury, is ranked 13th and is 15-8.
Henderson won the Wolfpack Open and finished second at the Nittany Lion Open this season. He enters the weekend on an eight-match winning streak and has eight pins to lead the Tar Heels.
Joe Spisak of Virginia and NC State's Tyler Hunt are in contention for the third and fourth seeds.The Terps will either go with Shane Arechiga or Frank Goodwin at 141. Goodwin, who has battled injuries throughout the year, did not appear in an ACC dual this season and is 6-7, while Arechiga went 2-3 in conference dual action with a victory over likely sixth seed Tanner Hough of Duke.
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