The entire North Carolina wrestling coaching staff entered Carmichael Arena on Saturday wearing UNC themed Christmas sweaters for the team's first home match of the season. The decision gave off a tangible swagger that this squad had rightfully earned after starting the year 3-0, a stretch that included an impressive win over then No. 8 Arizona State.
But the Tar Heels could not maintain that momentum on Saturday, falling 22-15 against No. 11 Nebraska.
No. 12 North Carolina (3-1) got out to a quick six-point lead before the first match even began after the Cornhuskers (5-1) forfeited the 125-pound match to first-year Joe Heilmann.
After that redshirt junior A.C. Headlee and redshirt first-year Austin O’Connor helped UNC secure two wins in the first three matches with wins by a score of 5-1 and 12-3, respectively.
Headlee’s win was a relatively even contest that featured an impressive display of elusiveness when he broke out of a hold with lightning speed in the first period. The match was decided when Headlee had an explosive third period, outscoring his Nebraska opponent, redshirt sophomore Chad Red Jr.
O’Connor immediately followed Headlee with a dominant display over his opponent. O’Connor took down junior Collin Purinton three separate times in the third period alone.
The most interesting match of the night was redshirt sophomore Kennedy Monday of UNC against junior Isaiah White of Nebraska. This match was Monday’s first in the 165-pound weight class. Monday appeared to have the win locked down, but White got control of Monday’s legs and took him down as time expired. The ruling was reviewed and confirmed after the match, giving White a 5-4 victory. Head coach Coleman Scott commented on Monday’s effort after the match.
“He jumped up a weight for the first time and has the guy beat,” Scott said. “I think we outwrestled them and lost that match on a hands to the face call that I don’t agree with.”
From then on, Nebraska got into the driver’s seat and never looked back. The Tar Heels would lose five of the last six matches on the night, with redshirt senior Chip Ness picking up North Carolina’s only win during that stretch.
After the match, Ness commented on his role as a leader on the team and how that energy helps the guys feed off of each other.
“You have to be inspiring,” Ness said. “I know as soon as A.C. got that win I was like ‘oh wow, we’re really doing this’ and everybody was just putting things together.”
Despite the loss, Coach Scott was extremely supportive of his squad after the match. “I’m really proud of the effort, top to bottom,” he said. “I’m proud of the way the guys fought. I thought we outwrestled them. I thought we got taken out of a couple of matches by some goofy stuff.”
The “goofy stuff” Scott mentioned after the match was in reference to multiple arguments with the officiating crew by both coaching staffs, one of which featured Scott challenging the fact that a Nebraska coach was stepping too far onto the mat, a rule that is non-challengeable.
Scott was also quick to identify areas that he believed his guys could improve in coming off their first loss of the year.
“It was a lot of individual things,” he said. “Kennedy has got to finish his matches. We have to have more from Cory. I think he shot twelve times and he was in deep on five or six of them and didn’t finish one. That’s unlike him.”
Although the North Carolina coaching staff came out in their holiday attire, this match certainly was no Christmas miracle. The next match for the Tar Heels is in the South Beach Duals in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Dec. 29-30.
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