Two North Carolina wrestlers earned All-America honors for their performances this weekend at the NCAA Championships in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Redshirt first-year Austin O’Connor and redshirt senior Chip Ness finished third and sixth, respectively. Both wrestlers earned unexpected victories to become All-Americans.
O’Connor was seeded sixth at 149-pounds and went 5-1 in Pittsburgh to earn his third place finish.
The redshirt first-year earned two comfortable victories over No. 27 Tejon Anthony of George Mason and No. 11 Josh Heil of Campbell to advance to the quarterfinals. He defeated Anthony by a 3-1 decision and eased by Heil with a 4-1 decision.
Those victories set up a high-stakes fifth meeting between O’Connor and Duke’s No. 3 Mitch Finesviler. Both wrestlers were consistently ranked at the top of their weight class all season, but Finesilver got the best of the series, going 3-1 against O’Connor coming into the NCAA Championships.
When the two met in the quarterfinals, O’Connor picked up an exciting victory. Regulation was not enough to decide the bout, so it was sent to overtime. O’Connor earned a takedown in overtime to earn the sudden victory over Finesilver.
O’Connor’s upset win guaranteed him All-America status.
The redshirt first-year phenom moved onto the semifinals where he faced a tough test in No. 2 Micah Jordan of Ohio State. Jordan showed his class in a 10-3 decision over O’Connor.
That loss sent O’Connor to the wrestlebacks portion of the bracket where he had a chance to place as high as third. UNC’s top wrestler earned yet another upset over Missouri’s No. 4 Brock Mauller to set up O’Connor vs. Finesilver part six in the third place bout.
In a high scoring bout for the two, O’Connor got the last laugh against Finesilver in a 7-5 decision. The victory gave the Tar Heel third place at 149-pounds and established O’Connor as a contender for years to come.
The redshirt senior entered the NCAA Championships as the No. 15 seed at 184-pounds but finished in sixth place.
Ness started his tournament off with a convincing 8-2 decision over No. 15 Tate Samuelson of Wyoming. That victory set up a bout against No. 2 Shakur Rasheed from the powerhouse that is Penn State.
The Tar Heel shocked the wrestling world and defeated Rasheed by an 8-5 decision. That huge upset put Ness in the quarterfinals with an opportunity to become an All-American.
In order to earn that status, Ness would need to complete yet another upset. That’s exactly what he did in an overtime victory over No. 10 Sam Colbray of Iowa State.
With that victory, Ness became an All-American for the second straight year as a low seed. Last year, he earned a seventh place finish as an unseeded wrestler.
Ness’ tournament took a wrong turn, however, in his semi final bout. He suffered a tough 7-4 loss to Northern Iowa’s No. 6 Drew Foster, who went on to become the national champion.
That loss put Ness in the wrestlebacks where No. 8 Ryan Preisch of Lehigh shut him out 3-0 to put the Tar Heel in the fifth place bout. Ness suffered his third straight loss in the fifth place bout to No. 4 Emery Parker of Illinois.
The bout, which was the last of Ness’ career, was characterized by proving his seeding wrong at the NCAA Championships and leading UNC to its first ACC title since 2002.
With O’Connor leading the Tar Heels for years to come, the future of the program looks bright. UNC will look to ride this momentum into next season.
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