The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday June 9th

Wrestlers Work to Earn National Prominence

"Every wrestler is talented in college," Bentley said. "The biggest thing to winning is that when you take some hard knocks, step right back up and keep working hard. Coming back from those hard knocks is the biggest asset you'll find."

Bentley and the rest of the Tar Heels will have to put that philosophy into practice tonight, as they head to Raleigh to open ACC play against N.C. State at 7:30.

The weekend was not kind to the

No. 20 Tar Heels, who ventured to Hampton, Va., for the Virginia Duals only to be ousted after losses to Cal State-Bakersfield and Kent State.

Yet UNC understood, even before the season began, that nonconference setbacks would not prove devastating.

"Really, in wrestling, the only things that count are ACCs and nationals," Bentley said last week. "Everything else is pretty much just practice until then. That is what we are concentrating on so that we can bring this program up into the top five in the nation."

The Tar Heels (1-2) are certainly putting in the work to move themselves into the nation's elite.

A trip to the wrestling training center in Fetzer Gym reveals a team that works on drills before practice and offers to stay late to perfect techniques, all in hopes of winning the ACC title for a fifth consecutive year.

"We like to think we are always going to be a contender for the ACC championship, but we don't take it for granted," UNC coach Bill Lam said. "I don't feel like we have been where we should be nationally. We need to get back up there."

For UNC to achieve its goals, key veterans must continue the dominance they have previously shown on the mat.

Corey Bell (174 pounds), Bentley (149), Chuckie Connor (125) and Clint Osborn (197) have all won ACC titles and have shots at repeating this season.

Connor is naturally a 133-pound wrestler but dropped to 125 pounds when Skyler Holman bolted for Oklahoma State during the offseason. Thus far, Connor is 10-2 in individual action.

On the opposite end of the seniority spectrum is sophomore Nick Richmond (184). Richmond, ranked No. 15 in the nation, had UNC's bout of the year in his upset of Lehigh's No. 5 Rob Rohn.

For the Tar Heels to be successful, the veterans, such as Connor, and the younger wrestlers, such as Richmond, must blend together into a cohesive whole -- one that believes.

That hasn't been a problem so far.

"We really, as a unit, have a positive attitude this year," Bell said. "Last year, I came in and said, 'I want us to be top 10; I want us to win it all,' and everybody groaned. This year, we are all starting to believe we can win, and it gets everybody hype."

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