UNC wrestling team preps for NCAA finals

Between the North Carolina wrestling team’s four coaches lie eight NCAA Division I Championship appearances and three national titles.

Five Tar Heels— the most since UNC sent seven in 2009 — are competing in this year’s championships, which began Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa.

But out of the five wrestlers that earned bids, only one — sophomore Evan Henderson — has made a previous appearance.

Coach C.D. Mock said the experience of each coach at the championships provides his wrestlers with a unique approach to the event. Along with Ohio, UNC’s contingent is the youngest at the championships.

“The coaches have two different views — both extremely beneficial,” Mock said. “You’ve got a guy in Cary Kolat who won a national championship saying ‘This is how I did it and this is the mentality to have.’ And you’ve got both Trevor Chinn and Dennis Papadatos saying ‘Look. I got here and didn’t get it done.’”

The Tar Heels are led by Henderson, who claimed the ACC title for his weight class in early March and is the No. 5-ranked 141-pounder.

Freshman Nathan Kraisser is ranked seventh in the 125-pound weight class.

Redshirt freshman John Staudenmayer and sophomore Alex Utley earned automatic bids by both taking third place in the 165-pound and 184-pound weight classes respectively at the ACC Championships.

Despite losing all three of his matches at the conference championships, freshman Joey Ward was awarded an invitation just a week before the team headed to Des Moines.

Mock said Des Moines has been transformed into the “mecca” of wrestling for the championships and has brought a sense of stressfulness to his wrestlers.

But Kraisser said he is ready to take on the challenge of wrestling in front of a crowd much larger than any Tar Heel has experienced this season.

“I’ve watched the NCAA’s the past couple of years when I was in high school, and even going back to middle school,” he said. “So to be here on such a big stage is pretty exciting.”

While Utley admitted to being nervous, he stressed the importance of controlling his nerves and focusing on wrestling.

“I’m not too nervous yet, but know I will be tonight and tomorrow morning,” Utley said on Wednesday. “But you have to be in charge of those nerves in order to wrestle well.”

Given the youth of his wrestlers, Mock said it’s natural for them to be complacent, but he stressed that he wants them to seize the opportunity to compete in the NCAA championships early in their college wrestling careers.

“When you have young guys in a place like this, there’s always the danger that their mentality goes, ‘Well, I’ve got a few more years,’” Mock said. “The mindset they have to have is, ‘I’m a freshman, I’m a sophomore and now’s the time to get it done.’”

Contact the desk editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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