The career of a student-athlete holds moments that one will cherish forever: personal accolades, rivalries and the support of fans. Perhaps one of the greatest occurrences in college sports combines all three of these aspects: a win, against a bitter rival, in your final home match.
The seniors of the No. 24 North Carolina wrestling team accomplished this feat on Wednesday night, with a 28-14 win against Duke in its second year of the Brawl at the Hall. All three Tar Heel seniors emerged victorious on the night.
“It was great,” senior Troy Heilmann said. “Just everything was coming together, with the environment. The Brawl at the Hall last year was fun, but I didn’t get to win. We wrestled against our biggest rivals, so we got the fans coming out.”
The Tar Heels, wrestling in Memorial Hall, started out with a 6-0 deficit due to a forfeit in the 125-pound bout, but they were able to rebound and win the next three matches to take a 13-6 lead. This stretch was highlighted by a pin from No. 8 Heilmann.
“It was my last match, got a pin so it got the fans fired up," Heilmann said. "So everything came together, and I really enjoyed it."
UNC (9-10, 3-2 ACC) would split the next two matches before perhaps the biggest event of the night: senior No. 16 Ethan Ramos vs. Duke's No. 18 Matt Finesilver.
Ramos led for the majority of the match. However, Finesilver was able to take a 5-4 lead after a takedown early in the third period. After a reversal by Ramos, the senior was able to regain his lead. He sealed the deal with a two-point takedown in the third period.
“I was just uncharacteristically tired,” Ramos said. “I don’t know exactly why, but at the end it was like I had the option of giving up or wrestling hard. And my whole goal is to worship God through it.”
This wasn’t the typical bout for Ramos. As an accomplished senior wrestler, Ramos expects to dominate every match that he is in; simply winning isn’t enough.
“I’m a little bit disappointed in how I wrestled,” Ramos said. “But I was happy that I got it done. I think I did all I could, so that’s a positive a can take out of it.”
North Carolina head coach Coleman Scott was pleased with the result of the match against the Blue Devils (6-7, 1-4 ACC), which also included a win by Danny Chaid in the 197 bout, and proud of the legacy that the seniors have created throughout their four years at UNC.
“No better way than to send off a senior with a win in their last match at home,” Scott said. “All of their parents are here, and it looks like they’re a little emotional. It’s been a long journey for them. When they send them, off to school, they’re sort of a boy and they want to leave a man and be prepared for the real world as much as possible.”
Even though the ACC regular season is over and there is only one regular-season match left on the schedule, Ramos and Heilmann are still focused on the bigger picture.
“My goal is to win it (the NCAA Tournament),” Ramos said. “I know I can win it. I’ve wrestled the best guys there, so I’m excited to go out and test myself there.”
“I’ve got big goals,” Heilmann said. “One of them get on the podium (at the ACC Tournament). All-American this year. I lost one ACC match far, so I’m looking to get that one back against Virginia Tech.”
The Tar Heels will now turn their attention toward an away match at No. 11 Cornell on Friday. This match will conclude the regular season for UNC, and then the team will begin to prepare for the ACC Tournament.
“We can win the ACCs,” Scott said. “And then we can be top 10 at the national tournament and that's a realistic goal. I want to have three, four All-Americans, but that’s looking ahead. Right now I want to beat Cornell on Friday, and be prepared for that ACC Tournament.”