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Dropping close matches hurts UNC wrestling in 29-5 loss to Cornell

Chip Ness Cornell
UNC senior Chip Ness suffers a takedown from Cornell sophomore Max Dean in a bout lost 2-3. No. 9 Cornell defeated UNC 29-5 on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2019 in the Carmichael Arena.

The No. 13 North Carolina wrestling team suffered a crushing loss in its last home match this season, falling 29-5 to No. 9 Cornell on Saturday at Carmichael Arena. With a number of competitive losses, the Tar Heels were unable to finish strong in several close matches.

After Friday night’s 20-14 loss to No. 10 N.C. State, the Tar Heels could not come away with a win against a tough Cornell team on Alumni Weekend. While Tar Heel wrestling legends were honored at Carmichael Arena on Saturday night, the North Carolina team on the floor lacked an edge that was evident after the first match of the night.

The lone bright spot for the Tar Heels was No. 4 Austin O’Connor, who started off strong for UNC in the 149-pound match. The redshirt first-year earned his 28th win of the season with a dominant 23-8 win over Cornell’s Will Koll to start the night.

Yet in a similar start to the night before against N.C. State, North Carolina suffered several defeats after O’Connor’s victory, one that couldn’t quite bring enough momentum for the other Tar Heel wrestlers. 

No. 20 Josh McClure and Sawyer Davidson were the first to fall short in their classes in back-to-back 3-2 losses.

After two periods and a 3-1 lead for Cornell’s Adam Santoro, a McClure escape in the final period could have given UNC a second straight win to start the night in the 157-pound weight class, but Santoro was able to hold on for a 3-2 decision win.

North Carolina faltered in the 165-pound matchup, when Davidson, a redshirt sophomore, dropped a match that gave the Big Red an early 6-5 lead.

Coming off of an 11-0 loss against N.C. State, redshirt sophomore Devin Kane was again limited in a 4-1 decision loss against No. 14 Brandon Womack.

It looked like No. 14 Chip Ness would have the opportunity to give the Tar Heels a much-needed win in his 184-pound bout. He led 2-0 thanks to three stalling calls on No. 13 Max Dean after the first period.

But a takedown by Dean late in the second period tied it at 2-2. From there, Ness found himself unable to take back the lead. With an escape and a takedown in the third period, Dean walked away with a 5-2 victory for the Big Red and gave Cornell a 12-5 lead against North Carolina.

The slim margins of victory for Cornell were met with frustration from UNC’s coaching staff. 

“If you look at the first five or six matches, we won one and lost the rest by a score. One score,” said head coach Coleman Scott. “We were in a good position to win all of them.”

But Scott did not believe fatigue from the N.C. State loss the night before was a factor.

“We wrestled harder tonight then we did last night,” said the fourth-year head coach. “Tonight I felt like we had a little more fight.”

The Cornell domination continued in the 197-pound matchup that ended in a 13-5 major decision win over UNC’s Brandon Whitman.

In his last appearance at Carmichael Arena, redshirt senior Cory Daniel was another Tar Heel who was unable to secure a win, losing his 285-pound matchup against Jeramy Sweany. The redshirt senior started on the right path for a much-needed North Carolina victory, earning a first period takedown against Sweany that got the Carmichael crowd on its feet.

But coming into the third period tied at 4-4, Daniel surrendered a takedown in heartbreaking fashion with just 20 seconds left in the match, and walked away from the floor for his last time with a 6-4 loss to a tough opponent in Sweany, one that stretched the Cornell team lead to 19-5.

The night was closed out by two more North Carolina losses in the 125- and 133-pound bouts.

“We gotta find a way to finish the matches," Scott said. "We didn’t finish matches. We just got there, but we didn’t finish them." 

The Duke match, UNC's last of the regular season, will be an important one for North Carolina. With a win against the Blue Devils, who have lost eight straight matches, the Tar Heels will earn a share of the ACC dual meet title for the first time since 2002. 

A season ago, Scott led UNC to its best showing at nationals since 1995. But after back-to-back losses, a dramatic turnaround is necessary.

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“We need to regroup, not going back to the drawing board, but just get better,” Coleman said. 

“It’s unacceptable, and they need to feel it burn.” 


@DTHSports |