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Wilson claims his spot on top of the podium

FINISHING ON TOP — N.C. State wrestler Tariq Wilson, a Steubenville High School graduate, celebrates winning an ACC title during the 141-pound finals on Sunday. -N.C. State Athletics

RALEIGH, N.C. — The third time definitely was a charm for Tariq Wilson.

After placing second at the ACC Wrestling Tournament the past two seasons, Wilson, a Steubenville High School graduate, made it to the top step of the awards podium Sunday night following a convincing 10-1 major decision of North Carolina’s second-seeded Zach Sherman in the 141-pound finals.

“It was a bittersweet victory,” Wilson said during a telephone interview Monday afternoon. “Going into the match, I was thinking about the loss last year and the fact that the NCAA Championships were canceled due to COVID-19.”

What made the win even more special was the fact that Wilson got it done in front of the home fans, as the one-day tournament was held inside James T. Valvano Arena at William Neal Reynolds Coliseum.

“It was big to have family and friends in attendance,” he said. “It was good to hear your name announced as the champion and the crowd going wild.”

Following a scoreless three-minute first period, the Wolfpack’s redshirt senior erupted for seven points in the second period to take command.

“We’ve wrestled each other so many times over the last five years, and we’ve adapted to each other’s strengths,” he said of his finals matchup with Sherman. “The first period was more of a feeling out by each of us. Each of us was waiting on the other to react first or make a mistake.”

Wilson chose down to start the second period and quickly escaped for a 1-0 lead. He then recorded a takedown and put Sherman on his back for a two-point nearfall and a 5-0 lead. He later got two more back points, as the period ended with him leading 7-0. Wilson secured his championship with another takedown in the third period and added on a point for riding time. Sherman’s lone point came when Wilson was called for stalling late in the match.

The No. 1 seed, Wilson, who was a four-time OVAC champion during his prep days at Big Red, received a first-round bye before taking out Pitt’s No. 4 seeded Cole Matthews, 7-2, in the semifinals.

“I’m going to enjoy today before getting back in the office (wrestling room) on Tuesday. There are some things that I need to work on before the nationals,” he said.

Wilson was one of five N.C. State individuals to claim titles, as the Wolfpack three-peated its team championship. The hosts amassed 89.5 points, which was 24 ahead of runner-up Virginia Tech.

“We came in here with a chip on our shoulders after losing the dual meet title (to Virginia Tech), so this feels really good,” he said of the team crown.

With his individual medal around his neck, Wilson now turns his attention to the NCAA Championships from March 18-20 inside Enterprise Center in St. Louis.

Wilson was an All-American as a freshman, placing third at 133 pounds when he stunned the field by upsetting the fourth- and fifth-seeds, en route to the semifinals. However, he dropped a tough overtime nod to top-seeded Daniel Gross of South Dakota State, who was the eventual titlist. After losing in the semifinals, he bounced back with a pair of major decisions in the consolation bracket, including 17-8 verdict over Ohio State’s third-seeded Luke Pletcher to finish with the bronze medal.

“There aren’t too many curveballs that can be thrown at me that I haven’t seen,” he said. “Having experience in that type of atmosphere and environment won’t affect me. I’ll be ready to wrestle.”

Over the duration of his career, in high school and college, he has shown that to be true.

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