Daniel wins late bout to lift No. 15 UNC wrestling over No. 11 Virginia Tech, 18-14
UNC senior Corey Daniel after winning his bout(3-2) against Virginia Tech in Carnmichael Arena on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. Daniel's victory provided the points needed for UNC to further secure their lead and win the overall competition against Virginia Tech with a final score of 18-14.
Wrestling as the closer, Daniel again found himself in a position where his team's victory or defeat was riding on the result of his bout, competing unranked against a ranked opponent. A crowd of fans and teammates looked on, encouraging the respective wrestlers with a nervous energy. Just eight days ago, Daniel faced this scenario at then-No. 13 Pittsburgh and pulled out the upset, along with the match win for UNC (11-5, 3-0 ACC).
“I just wanted to stick to my match,” Daniel said. “No matter what happened in Brandon (Whitman’s) match, I wanted to focus on mine and secure the win.”
When Daniel was presented with a do-or-die situation on Friday in No. 15 North Carolina’s dual meet with No. 11 Virginia Tech at Carmichael Arena, head coach Coleman Scott said he was more than confident his veteran wrestler would take care of business.
“I didn’t have a worry,” Scott said. “This is the guy that’s been in there his whole career, and hell yeah, I want someone that’s done it before.”
The coach’s faith – and the team's – was well placed. After falling behind 1-0 in the second period, Daniel, a redshirt senior, earned an escape and late takedown against No. 18 Billy Miller on the way to a 3-2 decision victory to clinch the 18-14 upset victory for the Tar Heels.
“My first period, I didn’t get to my offense that much,” Daniel said. “But when I got that takedown, that helped set the rest of my match up.”
Daniel’s efforts were crucial, but hardly unfamiliar to the Tar Heels. What was unfamiliar, though, and proved to be just as important, was the first bout victory of first-year Brandon Whitman’s career.
Wrestling in the 197-pound weight class, Whitman took on Virginia Tech’s Tom Sleigh, a redshirt senior ranked No. 7 in the country. The momentum was with the Hokies, who were in the midst of a three-bout winning streak and looking to clinch a come-from-behind victory on the road.
Whitman was not the only North Carolina wrestler facing a formidable opponent. Virginia Tech threw out five ranked wrestlers over the final five bouts (four of whom are in the top 10).
No. 14 Chip Ness surrendered a major decision in the bout before Whitman, capping a run of 11 straight points for the Hokies and giving them a 14-12 lead, their first since being up 3-0.
But Scott has trained his wrestlers not to worry about the bouts before or after them. He has trained them to focus on each bout, each period, each point, before worrying about the next.
Whitman said he takes this advice very seriously.
“I try not to watch matches before I wrestle,” he said. “I’ve just got to stay calm and stick to what I do best.”
The focus in close bouts kept the Tar Heels alive. While they won six of the 10 matchups, no UNC wrestler earned more than a regular decision. The Tar Heel wrestlers won two matches in overtime, and two more in the final seconds.
Redshirt senior Gary Wayne Harding also exemplified the focus Scott expects. Facing a 7-3 deficit in the third period, Harding rallied against No. 12 Korbin Myers, executing a late takedown followed by a near fall to earn a 12-8 victory.
“Focus on scoring the next point, that’s all you can do,” Harding said. “You can’t think to the future, and when you just focus on scoring, the next point stuff comes.”
The Tar Heels showed grit. Even when points were hard to come by, they found a way, winning matches by scores of 2-1 and 3-2. UNC fought hard for the win, but don’t expect the team to rest on its laurels.
In true Scott fashion, North Carolina won’t let the night's success distract it the next task at hand; a date with No. 8 N.C. State next Friday at Carmichael Arena.
“We reset right now with one goal in mind, and that’s beat State," Scott said.
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