UNC wrestlers looking for spark

After enduring several disappointing seasons, North Carolina wrestling coach C.D. Mock is confident that the new crop of Tar Heel wrestlers will help the team to bounce back from a 6-14 record last season.

The Tar Heels (1-2) will participate in three dual meets this weekend when the team travels to Pennsylvania to take on Michigan State, Clarion and Drexel.

UNC has just three juniors and no seniors on its 26-man roster, but Mock said the Tar Heels’ youth will be helpful in revitalizing the program.

“It’s great to have experience and maturity and leadership when that is coming from a successful background,” Mock said. “We haven’t been successful. We’ve had a rough couple of years.”

Leading the charge is sophomore Evan Henderson, who is ranked sixth in the NCAA at 141 pounds. Henderson placed sixth at the Midlands Championships in Evanston, Ill., against some of the nation’s top wrestlers and won his class at the Wolfpack Open in Raleigh on Nov. 11.

Henderson, who is 3-0 in the Tar Heels’ dual matches this season, said the attitude of the team has improved this season.

“The team as a whole, even coming into this year, has a completely different mindset,” Henderson said.

“We were a little off last year. This year instead of just winning, we’re trying to dominate the person.”

Alongside Henderson, freshmen Nathan Kraisser, at 125 pounds, and Joey Ward, at 133 pounds, rank 14th and 17th in Division I, respectively.

In UNC’s match against Nebraska, Kraisser, Ward and Henderson got the Tar Heels out to a 12-0 lead before the Cornhuskers took the next seven matches to cruise to a 25-12 win.

Mock said he was excited to have three wrestlers ranked in the top 20 of their weight classes, but he admitted the Tar Heels are lacking in some divisions.

“We’re a tournament team,” Mock said. “We’re not really a dual meet team, and the reason is because we have some holes.”

UNC will have a hole to fill at 197 pounds, as Antonio Giorgio will likely miss the next three meets after suffering a concussion at the Nittany Lion Open on Dec. 2.

Mock said successful programs are built upon individual successes, and the program has been looking for a wrestler that could provide that spark.

“We just haven’t had that example, and I believe we have that this year,” Mock said. “It might be Henderson, it might be one of the younger guys, but I believe that is one of the huge missing pieces of the puzzle and the success of our program.”

Kraisser said he thinks this group has the potential to usher in a new era of success at UNC.

“We’re the group that can change how Carolina wrestling is perceived. Other teams are starting to see that Carolina isn’t just a walkover,” Kraisser said. “I do see myself as one of those people that I think could change the Carolina program and make us a national contender again.”

Contact the desk editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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