A historic night for the underdogs at the 2023 NCAA Wrestling Championships

The NCAA made a significant change to its national tournament in 2019 when it expanded its seeding process by assigning a number to each wrestler in its 33-man bracket for the first time.

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

That list doubled on a whirlwind Thursday at the NCAA wrestling championships in Tulsa.

Virginia Tech’s 27th-ranked freshman Eddie Ventresca and West Virginia’s 28th-ranked Killian Cardinale advanced to the quarterfinals in a scrappy 125-pound division, and Michigan State’s 29th-ranked Caleb Fish navigated the star-studded 165-pound class.

Ventresca scored a takedown with 49 seconds remaining and rode Minnesota’s #11 seed Patrick McKee the rest of the way to win a 3-2 decision. Ventresca’s win came on the heels of his opening round overtime upset of reigning Big 12 champion Stevo Poulin, the #6 seed from Northern Colorado.

Cardinale won the opening round 3-2 against fifth-ranked Caleb Smith of Appalachian State, and followed that up with an 8-3 victory over Wyoming freshman Jore Volk on the championship side. Cardinale recorded takedowns in every period against the U20 world champions.

The Cardinale will get Purdue’s fourth-ranked Matt Ramos in the quarters. Ramos avoided a second-round upset by scoring in the final seconds to defeat North Carolina State’s Jarrett Trombley in a 6-5 tiebreaker.

Fish pulled off the biggest upset of the day, knocking off Cornell’s #4 seed Julian Ramirez 8-4 in the opening round. He backed that up by knocking off Pittsburgh’s Holden Heller 7-2 Thursday night. Heller opened the scoring with a takedown midway through the first period before Fish came back with a second-period riding round that included a two-count takedown and sealed the match with a late takedown.

Fish is the standout in a quarterfinal loaded with All-Americans. His next assignment comes Friday morning against returning NCAA finalist Princeton’s Quincy Monday. The other three quarters at 165 have six returning podium finishers.

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