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The Daily Tar Heel

In Unfamiliar Territory, Wrestling Looks to Shock ACC

This year, however, the talk isn't focused on the Tar Heels, and UNC coach Bill Lam and crew don't mind it at all.

"For the past 20 years, we've been picked to finish either No. 1 or No. 2 in the ACC preseason poll," Lam said. "This year, we weren't, but we kind of like this position. Now we are in a position to surprise a lot of people."

UNC will have a chance to see just what it can do this season when it travels to the East Stroudsburg Open this weekend.

"This weekend should really help us know where we are," Lam said. "We need to wrestle other people, and after this we will have a better idea of where we are going."

UNC is picked to finish No. 3 this year, largely due to the team's youth and inexperience.

The Tar Heels lost perennial powers Corey Bell, Chuckie Connor, and JohnMark Bentley from last year's team that finished in a tie for the ACC title.

Moreover, UNC lost its assistant coach, T.J. Jaworsky, who took a head coaching job at Davidson. The Tar Heels have filled that void with the hiring of C.D. Mock, a former ACC champion who left the world of business consulting to return to the UNC wrestling program.

To overcome the combination of loss and inexperience, the Tar Heels will look to a small core group of experienced wrestlers to lead the younger players.

"The leadership on this team is amazing," said Brad Byers, a 133-pound NCAA qualifier in 1999 and 2000. "There is a great amount of enthusiasm here, and we are hoping that it can translate into success."

Lam expects the trio of Byers, Matt Kenny and Nick Richmond to lead the way for the Tar Heels on the mat.

Kenny, a senior heavyweight, has won ACC titles and qualified for the NCAA Tournament in his three seasons. The past two years, Kenny has come one win short of earning All-American status.

"We are glad to have Matt back and are looking forward to him doing some great things this year," Lam said. "We are really expecting him to have a great year."

Another wrestler that has caught Lam's eye is one of UNC's three transfers, Chris Rodrigues. Rodrigues, who left Michigan, wrestles at 125 pounds and was a four-time state champion in high school.

"Chris is a fun kid to watch wrestle," Lam said. "He should make an impact for this team."

Mark Canty, another newcomer, is making his mark on the squad through a mix of leadership and emotion on the mat.

"I think we are all meshing well," Canty said. "We have some new guys that can do some damage, and our anticipation is growing."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.

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