Virginia Tech wrestling begins its quest for a team trophy on Thursday in Tulsa. For the first time in program history, the Hokies sent 10 wrestlers who were automatic qualifiers based on their finishes in each of their respective weight classes at the ACC tournament.
No. 3 Mekhi Lewis (174) is the highest-seeded Hokie, with four others seeded in the top seven in their respective weight classes — Sam Latona, Caleb Henson, Bryce Andonian and Hunter Bolen.
It’s the first time Tech has sent 10 wrestlers to the NCAA tournament since 2013, when the program finished 10th and had four All-Americans. The team is seeking its first team trophy since 2016, when it finished fourth.
With a full lineup full of some of the nation’s best wrestlers, VT has a chance to bring home the program’s second ever team trophy.
Here’s a look at every Hokies’ path through their respective bracket. Note that all projected opponents for VT wrestlers after the first round come with the assumption that the higher seed will always advance.
125: No. 27 Eddie Ventresca
Ventresca enters the tournament following an impressive 6-0 end to the regular season, including a second-place finish at the ACC tournament.
He didn’t get any favors in his bracket, however, as he’ll face North Colorado’s No. 6 Stevo Poulin in the first round.
If Ventresca is able to get past Poulin, he’ll likely see Minnesota’s No. 11 Patrick McKee in the second round and Nebraska’s No. 3 Liam Cronin in the quarterfinals.
It will be an uphill battle for Ventresca, but his recent success is proof that he has the ability to make a run.
133: No. 6 Sam Latona
After finishing 2-2 in last year’s tournament, Latona is out for redemption in Tulsa. The Alabama native finished as an All-American two years ago and has a good shot for another top-eight finish this season.
Latona gets Missouri’s No. 27 Connor Brown in the first round before Lehigh’s No. 11 Connor McGongale a round later.
His bracket sets up for a rematch with Cornell’s No. 3 Vito Arujau in the quarterfinals, who he beat in January in Blacksburg, 3-2. If Latona can take down Arujau again, he’ll have a good shot to secure his second All-American finish of his career.
141: No. 15 Tom Crook
Crook finished fourth at 141 in Raleigh in a stacked bracket. On paper, his path in Tulsa won’t be as tough.
He’ll face Northwestern’s No. 18 Frankie Tal-Shahar in the first round. Assuming the true freshman wins that first match, he’ll face Northern Colorado’s No. 2 Andrew Alirez.
It won’t get any easier after that, though. He’ll likely match up against either NC State’s No. 10 Lachlan McNeil or Cornell’s No. 7 Vince Cornella. Crook suffered bonus-point losses to both in the regular season.
Anything more than a first round win should be viewed as a relatively decent showing for the Tampa native.
149: No. 4 Caleb Henson
The highest-seeded true freshman in program history, Caleb Henson should have a good shot to earn All-American status in Tulsa.
He’ll start off the tournament with a bout against Ohio’s No. 29 Alec Hagan in the first round. After that, it’s a tough match against Penn State’s No. 13 Shayne Van Ness.
Iowa State’s No. 5 Paniro Johnson likely awaits in the quarterfinal. Henson should be favored, but it will be a wire-to-wire battle nonetheless.
If Henson makes it to the semifinals, he’ll be seeking revenge against Cornell’s No. 1 Yianni Diahomihalis — who he lost to in the regular season meeting, 6-2.
Henson hasn’t lost since that match on Jan. 6. A win against the Big Red’s best would give him the chance to compete for a national championship.
157: No. 7 Bryce Andonian
After finishing third at 149 pounds in last year’s NCAA tournament, Andonian will try to crack the podium again in his new weight class.
He’ll have Ohio’s No. 26 Peyton Kellar in the opening round before facing Oklahoma State’s No. 10 Kaden Gfeller in the second.
The first match he won’t be favored in will come in the quarterfinals against Penn State’s No. 2 Levi Haines. If he’s able to eke out the victory, he’ll likely be an All-American for the second-straight year.
165: No. 23 Connor Brady
Brady had a great showing at the ACC tournament, finishing second despite entering as the No. 4 seed.
He comes into the NCAA tournament again as an underdog and will face Ohio State’s No. 10 Carson Kharchla, who he lost to in the dual opener, 3-1.
North Dakota State’s No. 7 Michael Caliendo III is likely Brady’s second round opponent if he’s able to get vengeance against Kharchla.
A skilled and experienced wrestler, he has the ability to make a run, but anything better than a first round exit would be a good outing.
174: No. 3 Mekhi Lewis
Lewis is seeded in the top three for the second time in his career, the most of any wrestler in Tech history.
He is seeking his second national championship after falling one win short last season. Assuming he makes it through the first two rounds, he’ll face Ohio State’s No. 6 Ethan Smith for the second time this season after beating him 3-2 in November.
Nebraska’s No. 2 Mikey Labriola will likely be Lewis’ semifinal match. He lost to the Husker wrestler at the Cliff Keen Invitational earlier this season in overtime, 3-1.
There’s a good chance he’ll have to get revenge in the championship match, too. Penn State’s No. 1 Carter Starocci, who held off Lewis in the 2022 final, will likely be the championship opponent.
184: No. 7 Hunter Bolen
Part of the reason Bolen returned to Virginia Tech for another year was because he was unhappy with the way his 2022 season ended.
He’ll begin his comeback tour against Navy’s No. 27 David Key before facing Oklahoma State’s No. 10 Travis Wittlake in the second round.
The quarterfinals should present a familiar foe for Bolen: NC State’s No. 2 Trent Hidlay. Bolen hasn’t beaten Hidlay in three-straight meetings, including their most recent bout at the ACC tournament.
Getting past the Wolfpack wrestler would be a big win for Bolen, both personally and on the mat.
197: No. 21 Andy Smith
Smith proved in the regular season that he’s a better wrestler than the number next to his name. He’ll have to continue to show it early in Tulsa when he faces Illinois’ No. 12 Zac Braunagel in the first round.
Lehigh’s No. 5 Michael Beard will likely be his second round matchup if he beats Braunagel, and considering Smith upset NC State’s Isaac Trumble in the regular season — who’s seeded No. 6 in the tournament — he could have a shot to make it to the quarterfinals.
285: No. 22 Hunter Catka
Another Hokie who wrestled up to his competition this year, Catka will need to continue to perform at a high level to advance in the tournament.
Wisconsin’s No. 11 Trent Hillger is Catka’s first opponent. Harvard’s No. 6 Yaraslau Slavikouski awaits in the second round. Any advancement in the championship bracket would be a good outcome for Catka.
Where to watch:
All matches will be aired on ESPN and ESPNU throughout the weekend.
3 Responses You are logged in as Test
Tech’s most consistent and exciting mens’ team and has been for quite a while. Go Hokies!!!!
Latona, Andonian WILL be AA’s if they win Qtrs vs Aruja and Haines. The Qtrs is called the blood round, because winners can place no lower than 6th and are automatically AA status. Losers still have to fight back in conso bracket.
I should clarify. The blood round is actually the round in consos that eliminates you or makes you AA top 8. The Qtrs does determine the first guaranteed AA’s so it is sort of a championship bracket blood round, but losers have one more chance. The losers of Qtr’s go to the conso blood round. or Rnd of 12, which means losers out and winners get at least top AA top 8.
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