The Wolfpacker

November-December 2023

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 40 of 51

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2023 ■ 41 THE ART OF WRESTLING ACC Champion Kai Orine Lets His Personality Shine Though On The Mat And In His Creative Work BY NOAH FLEISCHMAN ai Orine arrived at NC State with an affinity for art — the school's major in design played a role in his commit- ment to the Wolfpack — and it has served as a creative outlet outside of wrestling. "My whole identity my whole life has basically been as a wrestler," Orine said. "I'm not going to be able to wrestle for- ever, but being an artist and a designer is the idea on the other side of that coin that's helped me get through life." A native of Imperial, Mo., Orine used to doodle notes on paper during class. Now, he's got a name, image and like- ness deal to do design work, and along the way, he's blossomed into a star wrestler in Raleigh. Orine redshirted his freshman year before appearing in seven matches the following season. A year ago, every- thing clicked for Orine, who cracked the starting lineup and became a force down the stretch. It was a bumpy ride at times, but Orine rose to the occasion. Redshirt se- nior 197-pound wrestler Trent Hidlay saw it happen up close, and he com- pared Orine to Tariq Wilson, who was a three-time All-American and two-time ACC champ during his tenure with the Wolfpack. "Kai, he's a very unique individual," Hidlay said. "He's a gamer, and you saw that toward the end of the year. When the stakes got a little higher, he tended to perform better. "Those type of guys have an innate talent. When there's more pressure and the stakes are higher, they always rise to the occasion." Orine went through the roller coaster life of an improving college wrestler. He would win some big matches, but there were some losses that Orine probably should have won. Head coach Pat Popolizio said Orine has developed a strong support system to help him handle the peaks and valleys with grace. "He's found the right people in his life to surround himself with, and it's had a positive impact," Popolizio said. "What we do isn't easy, and you can get negative and down on yourself when things aren't going right. Kai has done a great job battling through adversity and having the growth that you need to go through when you're improving. "He never dwelled on it," Popolizio added. "You saw him wrestle his best in the month of March." Orine won the ACC 133-pound crown a year ago. His postseason surge in- cluded a semifinal win over Virginia Tech's Sam Latona, who entered the ACC Championships with one league title in hand. Orine pinned Pittsburgh's Micky Phillippi, who was No. 8 in the country and a two-time ACC champ in the weight class, in overtime to win his first ACC title. He was later named the event's Most Outstanding Wrestler. Orine continued to wrestle well at the NCAA Championships, where he placed eighth en route to All-America status for the first time in his collegiate career. As he reflected on his time a year ago, Orine came up with how he's going to follow his conference championship performance — repeat. "I want to do it again," he said. "I'll focus on keeping my health right, doing the right things, doing the little things and doing it all again." For Orine to claim the ACC title again — and parlay that into an improved showing in Kansas City at the 2024 NCAA Tournament — he will likely match up again with Latona. The Hokie standout is ranked fourth nationally at 133 pounds this preseason by FloWres- tling, while Orine is right behind him, ranked fifth in the weight class. Orine treats every opponent as a rival, but he did acknowledge that wrestling against Latona will help him. "Iron sharpens iron," Orine said. "You need to be under that heat, under that pressure, to make yourself stronger. That rivalry is going to make both of us better wrestlers. I welcome it." Yes, the high-level matches are com- ing for Orine this season, but when he thought about last year's run to the top of the ACC, he said he learned a lot about himself. Orine said he worked on not overthinking matches. Instead, he let his preparation guide him in com- petition. Orine also noted his ability to lean into his personality more on the mat. He is a dangerous competitor — even Hid- lay affirmed that — but Orine had bot- tled up his emotions when he wrestled. Last season, he let them loose, and it paid off. "I really let my personality shine in those moments," Orine said. "I was having fun with it finally. Last season was an agonizing, long and brutal year, but it was also one of the most exciting, emotional and fun years that I've had. I was able to go out and compete and show my personality, have fun and act like a psycho sometimes." While Orine showed his authentic self on the mat last season — and was suc- cessful along the way — he continuously returns to art. He has been drawn to art his entire life, and now it serves as an escape to keep himself grounded through the gru- eling collegiate wrestling season. "It's just how my brain has always worked, it's what I've gravitated toward, and now it's a passion I can pursue out- side of wrestling," Orine said. "It keeps me sane. We have a long wrestling season. I need some kind of balance to keep my mind right. Being an artist, being able to design, balanced me out and kept me on my feet." ■ K

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