At the 2023 NCAA Wrestling Championships, an historic night for underdogs

In 2019, the NCAA made significant changes to its national tournament by expanding its seeding system and, for the first time, assigning a number to each wrestler in its 33-man brackets.

There were three wrestlers who reached the quarterfinals in the first three years of the full seeding format as a 25th or lower seed: 25th Brian Courtney at 133 in 2022, 26th Jake Woodley at 197 in 2021, and 28th Sam Stoll at 285 in 2019.

During a turbulent Thursday at the NCAA Wrestling Championships in Tulsa, that list doubled.

Eddie Ventresca, a 27th-seeded freshman at Virginia Tech, and Killian Cardinale, a 28th-seeded freshman at West Virginia, made it to the quarterfinals in a battered 125-pound bracket. Caleb Fish, a 29th-seeded freshman at Michigan State, made it through the star-studded 165-pound class.

With 49 seconds left, Ventresca landed a takedown and carried Minnesota’s #11 seed Patrick McKee the rest of the way to a 3-2 victory. The victory for Ventresca came shortly after his overtime upset of Northern Colorado’s Stevo Poulin, the current Big 12 champion and the sixth seed, in the opening round.

Cardinale followed up an opening-cycle 3-2 win against #5 seed Caleb Smith of Appalachian State, proceeding with his title side go through the section with a 8-3 win against Wyoming green bean Jore Volk. Cardinale defeated the U20 World champion with takedowns in each period.

Matt Ramos, a fourth-seeded Purdue player, will be given to Cardinale in the quarters. By scoring a takedown in the final seconds, Ramos avoided a second-round upset and defeated Jarrett Trombley of North Carolina State 6-5 in a tiebreaker.

When Fish defeated Julian Ramirez, the fourth-seed at Cornell, 8-4 in the first round, he pulled off the biggest upset of the day. He followed that up with a 7-2 victory over Pittsburgh’s Holden Heller on Thursday. Fish responded with a second-period rideout that included a two-point near-fall and secured the victory with a late takedown, but Heller scored first with a takedown midway through the first period.

In a quarterfinal bracket full of All-Americans, Fish is the exception. His next match is against Princeton’s Quincy Monday, a former NCAA finalist, on Friday morning. The other 3/4 at 165 component six returning platform finishers.

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