A historic night for underdogs at the 2023 NCAA Wrestling Championships

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

The first three years of the full seeding format saw three wrestlers reach the quarterfinals as a #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 during a turbulent Thursday at the NCAA Wrestling Championships in Tulsa.

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

Ventresca scored a takedown with 49 seconds remaining and drove down Minnesota No. 11 Patrick McKee the rest of the way to win a 3–2 decision. For Ventresca, victory came on the heels of his opening round overtime victory over reigning Big 12 champion Stevo Poulin, the #6 seed from Northern Colorado.

Cardinale followed up with a 3-2 opening round victory against #5 seed Caleb Smith of Appalachian State, and then continued his championship run through the series with an 8-3 win against Wyoming freshman Jore Volk. Cardinale recorded takedowns against the U20 world champion in every period.

Cardinale will face fourth-seeded Matt Ramos from Purdue in the quarterfinals. Ramos evaded a second-round upset by scoring a takedown in the final seconds to defeat North Carolina State’s Jarrett Trombley 6–5 in a tiebreaker.

Fish pulled off the biggest upset of the day when he overthrew Cornell’s No. 4 seed Julian Ramirez 8-4 in the opening 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 recovered with a rideout in the second period with a two-point near-fall and sealed the fight with a late takedown.

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

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