National champ Austin O’Connor of North Carolina is the Atlantic Coast Conference Wrestler of the Year and headlines the ACC’s 2021 season award winners, the North Carolina-based conference announced on Wednesday, March 31.
O’Connor is joined by ACC Freshman of the Year Sam Latona of Virginia Tech, while NC State’s Pat Popolizio and Pitt’s Keith Gavin received the nod as ACC Co-Wrestling Coaches of the Year.
ACC season honors are determined by a vote of the league’s head coaches.
The second-seeded O’Connor’s 3-2 win over No. 1 seed Sammy Sasso of Ohio State in the 149-pound final on March 20 secured UNC’s first NCAA wrestling gold medal since 1995 and the 20th all-time NCAA individual title by an ACC wrestler. It marked the sixth NCAA title all-time by a Tar Heel grappler.
O’Connor, a redshirt junior from Lockport, Illinois, also successfully defended his conference title in the 149-pound weight class earlier in the season at the ACC Championships on Feb. 28. He finished the season 13-0, including a 6-0 mark against ACC opponents. The Tar Heel was a Hodge Trophy finalist as well.
Virginia Tech’s Latona placed sixth in the 125-pound weight class at the NCAA Championships to earn All-America honors in his first true varsity season as an attached competitor for the Hokies. The redshirt freshman from Alabaster, Alabama, finished the season with a 14-3 mark that included an 8-0 duals record and the ACC Championship at 125. The lightweight made his presence known after securing an upset win over NC State’s Jakob Camacho in front of a national audience during an ACC matchup on Feb. 5.
— ACC Network (@accnetwork) February 8, 2021
Latona, one of 43 Virginia Tech All-Americans all-time and one of three this season, posted an 8-0 mark in dual matches.
Popolizio led NC State to its third consecutive team title at the ACC Championships, and the Wolfpack went on to a sixth-place NCAA team finish (68 total points) that ranked as the second-best in school history. It marked the sixth top-10 finish for the program overall and the second top-10 finish in the last three NCAA Championships (school-best fourth in 2018).
The Wolfpack’s four All-America wrestlers – which included NCAA silver medalist Trent Hidlay – tied a program record. NC State became the first school to claim three consecutive ACC wrestling championships since North Carolina won four in a row from 1997-2000. NC State secured four ACC individual championships and finished 24 points ahead of second-place Virginia Tech in the team scoring.
Under Gavin’s watch, Pitt had arguably its best postseason in recent memory, placing two wrestlers in the NCAA Championship finals (Jake Wentzel at 165 pounds and Nino Bonaccorsi at 197) for the first time since 1963. The Panthers finished 11th overall in the final team standings.
That team finish marked Pitt’s best NCAA finish since 1970 when the squad placed eighth. The Panthers’ 40.5 total points were the program’s highest under the NCAA’s current scoring format.