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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC wrestler Ward fought back from tough start

North Carolina wrestler Joey Ward remembers the arms of his opponent tightening around his neck like a boa constrictor.

And not much else.

“Until I got off the mat, I didn’t even know what happened before,” Ward said.

Campbell’s Tanner Bidelspach trapped the 133-pound freshman in a headlock, giving Ward two choices — fight or get out of dodge.

Ward chose the former, driving his body into a forearm noose. The maneuver only made his opponent ratchet up his grip, presenting a claustrophobic predicament.

“If I practice in that position, I go absolutely crazy because you can’t breathe,” coach C.D. Mock said. “It’s brutal to be in that position.”

Ward blacked out seconds before surrendering a pin and six points — the bout lasted just 37 seconds. That wasn’t the concern of UNC trainers and coaches, who trotted out to the center of the mat to attend to their fallen wrestler.

Fellow freshman Nathan Kraisser looked on anxiously as his roommate, practice partner and classmate lay motionless.

“I saw him after they called him pinned,” Kraisser said. “He was just limp still. His eyes kind of rolled back in his head a little bit. I just wanted to make sure he was all right. When the coaches ran out there real quick, I came out in front of the benches and made sure he was OK.”

Ward managed to walk off the mat under his own power. Trainers peppered him with questions as a precaution, but the most effective remedy came courtesy of his coach.

“Coach (Mock) talked to me and said, ‘It’s happened before. Let’s bounce back.’

“I just shook it off real quick, and you can kind of see it in the second match.”

A revived, rejuvenated and, according to his coach, “pissed” Ward was a recipe for disaster for his next opponent — Aaron Hansen of The Citadel.

With an explosive lower body and tentacle-like reach, Ward roared out of the gate and pinned his Citadel foe just more than two minutes into their bout. It was a remarkable turnaround that Ward could only describe as “a little crazy.”

Both Kraisser and Mock said Ward would have won his Campbell bout decisively if he had eluded such a precarious position. They could express such confidence because they know the talent that Ward, 19-8 this season, possesses.

“I think he’s arguably the best wrestler on the team,” Mock said. “He has incredible positioning, and in wrestling, positioning is probably the second-most important thing next to mental toughness.”

His positioning may have forsaken him momentarily Sunday, but Ward said he wants to approach his future exactly as he overcame his misfortune Sunday afternoon — “100 percent forward.”

“It’s fun,” Ward said of his season. “You like being in college. It’s been what you’ve been waiting for your whole life, to go to college and show your stuff. I’m looking forward to ACCs and NCAAs.

“I’m just ready to go.”

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