These bouts against coaches are one way the Tar Heels are preparing themselves for the hardest chunk of their schedule, a five-match road trip in January. UNC will travel to Rutgers, Virginia, Virginia Tech, N.C. State and Cornell, all in the course of about a month.
Redshirt senior Troy Heilmann treats the taxing stretch of road matches as a blessing in disguise.
“The schedule is hard,” Heilmann admitted. “But the solution is easy: if you wrestle the best guys and get ready for them, you’re going to be ready for the national tournament.”
And with a team as young as the Tar Heels are this year, being bombarded by strong competition is the only way to gain experience for ACC and national tournaments. That’s not to say that the legion of 19 first-years and redshirt first-years hasn’t impressed coaches and captains alike with their commitment to the team’s mentality and will to win.
“What’s impressed me the most is the way they blend in the room right away,” Heilmann said. “Workouts are tough, but they pushed through, and now they’re wrestling live and pushing our guys that have been here for three, four, five years.”
Senior leaders are competing just as hard to maintain the top spot in their respective weight classes and to set a high standard for new teammates to follow. Senior Danny Chaid, who took second at the USA Wrestling U23 World Team Trials in early October, has tried to find the balance between being a competitor and a team leader.
“From a leadership perspective,” he said, "it’s important to be there as a teammate and as a friend, and try to lead by example.”
Redshirt senior Ethan Ramos is another tenured wrestler that looks to help young players compete and succeed on and off the mat.
“I’m trying to be more vocal and lead by example,” he said. “Anytime I see someone struggling or someone who needs some help, I try to talk to them about it and give them some tips and advice from what I’ve seen. And that’s not just with technique or wrestling, but just with life.”
With strong leadership from seniors like Chaid, Heilmann and Ramos, and support from a freshman class with a mountain of off-season training, everyone has high expectations for this upcoming season. Players and coaches have their eyes set on the ACC conference title, as well as national spots for some Tar Heel wrestlers.
"I expect all our seniors to be contending to be an All-American this year,” Scott said. “We’ve got Ethan, who has before, the other two haven’t. And I think that that’s their thought process as well.”
The Tar Heels don’t mind the off-season grind, the heavy schedule or the matches against current and former Olympians. The first-years, the seniors and the coaches all love it.
North Carolina enters its season ranked 18th in the country. For a team that had five wrestlers qualify for the NCAA Tournament last season, all this offseason work might be the factor that helps the Tar Heels improve even more.