Historic night for underdogs at 2023 NCAA Wrestling Championships

The NCAA made a significant change to its national tournament in 2019 when it expanded its ranking process, for the first time assigning a number to every wrestler in its 33-player brackets.

In the first three years of the full rankings format, three wrestlers have reached the quarterfinals as the #25 seed or lower – #25 Brian Courtney at 133 in 2022, #26 Jake Woodley at 197 in 2021 and # 28 Sam Stoll at 285 in 2019.

That list doubled on a hectic Thursday at the NCAA Wrestling Championships in Tulsa.

Eddie Ventresca, 27th seed of Virginia Tech, and Killian Cardinale, 28th seed of West Virginia, advanced to the quarterfinals in a tattered 125-pound bracket and the No. 29 seed of the Michigan State Caleb Fish sailed in the 165-pound class.

Ventresca scored a strikeout with 49 seconds left and led Minnesota’s No. 11 seed Patrick McKee the rest of the way to earn a 3-2 decision. For Ventresca, the win came on the heels of his first-round overtime upset against defending Big 12 champion Stevo Poulin, the No. 6 seed from Northern Colorado.

Cardinale followed up with a 3-2 first-round win over No. 5 seed Caleb Smith of Appalachia State, continuing his championship side run through the bracket with an 8-3 win over Wyoming rookie Jore Volk. Cardinale recorded eliminations in every period against the U20 world champion.

Cardinale will get Purdue’s fourth-seeded Matt Ramos in the quarters. Ramos dodged a second-round upset by scoring one out in the final seconds to beat North Carolina State’s Jarrett Trombley 6-5 in a tiebreaker.

Fish pulled off the biggest upset of the day when he toppled Cornell’s No. 4 seed Julian Ramirez 8-4 in the first round. He backed that up by beating Pittsburgh’s Holden Heller 7-2 on Thursday night. Heller opened the scoring with a takedown midway through the first period before Fish rallied with a second-period overlap that included a two-run near-drop and sealed the fight with a late takeout.

Fish is the outlier in an All-Americans-laden quarterfinal bracket. His next assignment is Friday morning against returning NCAA finalist Quincy Monday from Princeton. The other three quarters at 165 feature six return podiums.

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