With a squad composed of talented but largely untested wrestlers, the No. 25 Tar Heels saw their match with seventh-ranked Lehigh on Sunday as an opportunity to make their claim as national contenders.
UNC coach Bill Lam believed the contest was so important, in fact, that the Tar Heels skipped their annual journey to the prominent Midlands Tournament in Illinois and conducted intense two-a-day practices during winter break.
The wait -- and the rigorous practice schedule -- were well worth it.
Behind the force of Nick Richmond's upset of No. 5 Rob Rohn (184 pounds), UNC defeated the Mountain Hawks 17-16 in a hard-fought match.
"This is why we didn't go to Midlands," Lam said. "We stayed here and trained, and I thought it showed. We looked in better shape than them and it paid off.
"This is a huge win. We have been winning the ACC, but we have not been beating people on the national level, and that is what I want us to return to. It was good for our confidence, it will help our recruiting and it let people know that we are going to be right there."
The principle contributor to the UNC statement was Richmond. With the Tar Heels leading 11-10 with four weight classes remaining, he overcame a 2-1 deficit going into the third period to pull out a dramatic 6-3 victory.
Richmond tallied an escape to tie the match at 2-2, then scored a pair of takedowns to win the bout.
"I felt prepared for the match coming into it," Richmond said. "My workout partner has really been pushing me hard. I just went out and fought hard."
Richmond was not the only Tar Heel who battled mightily against Lehigh.
Chuckie Connor was above weight Saturday night and began exercising after he got up Sunday morning until the meet began.
"He was dead when we put him out there," Lam said. "He was already done."
Even under those circumstances, Connor won the 125-pound weight class match in the last bout of the afternoon.
With Lehigh leading 16-14, Connor beat Mountain Hawk freshman Terrance Clendenin 4-1 capturing the upset for the Tar Heels.
"Chuckie really pulled out a big one for us," Richmond said. "He did great and just wrestled tough."
UNC surrendered only one major fall, as Mike Booth lost to Matt Goldstein 11-3 in the 141-pound class, and claimed two major decisions by JohnMark Bentley and John Paul Igoe.
The established wrestlers were not the only ones performing at a high level. Freshmen Ryan Adams (Hwt.) and Booth lost, but against nationally prominent competition.
"Three of our young guys, Adams, Booth and Richmond all wrestled well," Lam said. "Adams was supposed to redshirt this year but we didn't have anybody else, and that kid he wrestled was 23-2, and he wrestled him to a stalemate. We had a lot of kids who wrestled well today."
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