UNC wrestling's consistency tested at Penn State
As of 9 p.m. Sunday, the North Carolina wrestling team was gliding along the highway in a bus, hours still remaining on its trip back to Chapel Hill from the Nittany Lion Open in State College, Pa.
The drab drive would have been a little easier to absorb for one UNC wrestler if he was carrying first-place hardware with him.
Sophomore Evan Henderson, the Tar Heels’ top wrestler in the 141-pound division and ranked No. 17 in the class nationally, powered his way through strong competition at the open before falling 16-8 in the final to Virginia Tech’s Devin Carter.
“Henderson had a great tournament,” head coach C.D. Mock said. “Hendo is capable of winning these tournaments … He just has to be more consistent.”
Henderson pinned his first opponent in 71 seconds, and then the next two in less than three minutes each. It wasn’t until the semifinal that he was significantly challenged, and he came out with a 4-3 win against Undrakhbayar Khishignyam of the Citadel.
Still, he wanted the win.
“(I’m) not happy — nobody won it,” a tired Henderson said over the phone on the ride back. “But as a team, we competed pretty damn hard.”
Other strong performances included the Tar Heels’ two 125-pound wrestlers, freshman Nathan Kraisser and redshirt junior Brian Bokoski.
They finished third and fourth in the class, respectively.
“Brian Bokoski had the tournament of his life,” Mock said of his wrestler’s run to the semifinals. “It was probably the best I’ve ever seen him wrestle.”
Excluding his two-minute, two-second pin of Buffalo’s Max Soria in the second round, Bokoski topped his opponents by a combined score of 36 to 11, including a 19-to-4 decision against the Citadel’s Steven Cox in the third round.
His ensuing loss in the semifinals set up a strange scenario for the third-place match — Bokoski faced his teammate Kraisser.
The freshman, who had a similar run to the semifinals, came out with an 18-to-4 win.
“He just gets better every time he steps on the mat,” Mock said of Kraisser, ranked No. 14 in the nation for his weight class.
Those were the reasons to be pleased. Mock was happy with his team’s performance, but he realizes it’s early in the season and, as always, there’s room to improve.
“We made a lot of mistakes,” he said, adding that the team’s showing despite those miscues is a promising sign. “(But) we’re very encouraged.”
And if there was one thing besides a first-place trophy that could have given Henderson some peace of mind, it was his performance against some of the nation’s elite wrestlers.
“It gives me a little more to see where I’m at in comparison to the rest of the competition,” he said.
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