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The Daily Tar Heel

Kenny Returns Stronger Than Ever

UNC wrestler Matt Kenny has recovered from a December knee injury and is unbeaten in the league.

How nice it was for the North Carolina wrestling team to hear those words.

Kenny was sidelined after sustaining a knee injury in Las Vegas in December, but after enduring surgery and a rigorous rehabilitation schedule, the heavyweight grappler is back and perhaps better than ever.

"He's stronger now than before he was hurt," said Ryan Adams, who wrestled in the heavyweight slot while Kenny was absent. "He'll be back."

Kenny displayed that newfound vigor Saturday night when he pinned Appalachian State's Danny Misenheimer 41 seconds into their bout.

The biology major's initial return came at Ohio, where he won a 7-3 decision against Brad Bauer. Kenny's overall record now stands at 10-1.

"I felt really good in my first match with Ohio," Kenny said. "It was really big for me, if nothing else just from a confidence standpoint."

If, in fact, the junior is better than before, the ACC is in trouble.

In both his freshman and sophomore seasons, Kenny won the ACC heavyweight crown and qualified for the NCAA tournament. He was tabbed an honorable mention All-American his freshman year. As a collegiate wrestler, Kenny is 60-20 and has never lost an ACC bout.

This season has promised to be his best. Wrestling the best he ever has, Kenny started the season at 8-1, prompting talk of gaining the first-team All-America status that has twice eluded him.

"If there is any year for me to do really well, this is going to be a good one," Kenny said. "The quality is down some this season. The door is open in the heavyweight class."

Fortunately for Kenny, the door on his season is still ajar, too.

"Matt is a very hard-training guy, Adams said. "He'll work his way back to where he needs to be."

Missing a couple months of action doesn't necessarily hurt Kenny's chances to be an All-American, and his expectations for himself remain high.

"My goals are to win the ACCs again, and to place at Nationals," Kenny said. "That is what I am here for."

There are a couple of factors that Kenny must overcome, though.

Immediately, the Blair Academy graduate must improve his mat stamina. Two months without wrestling takes its toll in long, grueling matches. Time and grappling will take care of that, though, Kenny said.

Kenny's long-term prognosis presents a slightly different problem. Kenny usually peaks at the end of the season, and the missed time may impact the quality of his wrestling come nationals, when everyone else has had two more months of preparation.

Those concerns are peripheral right now for Kenny.

February will see the 6-foot-2 Kenny climbing aboard the Tar Heel bus under his own power, stepping on the mat with confidence and helping to lead UNC to another ACC crown.

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