The North Carolina wrestling team survived a scare from Chattanooga, using strong performances from redshirt sophomores Jaime Hernandez and Clay Lautt to hold onto a 22-15 victory.
The Mocs kept the competition close against the 19th-ranked Tar Heels during Sunday's match, despite being a much weaker team on paper. The contributions from Lautt and Hernandez proved to be the difference.
UNC got off to a slow start, falling into a 5-0 hole after dropping the first match. Hernandez walked up to the mat feeling the pressure to cut into the deficit.
He was able to grind out a 4-1 victory over Chattanooga's Franco Valdez, earning a crucial three points. The score was now 5-3 with the momentum shifting North Carolina’s way.
After wins by both teams, the Tar Heels were left with a 13-9 lead. This was when Lautt made the biggest play of the day.
In a narrow match, Lautt waited patiently for the right opportunity to strike. He found his chance in the third period and got his opponent in a front headlock before he took him down and laid on top of him to earn the only pin of the competition.
The crowd erupted as Lautt celebrated on the mat. He knew he gave his team the breathing room it needed to get the win. However, he was quick to give credit to his coaches for preparing him for the moment.
“Last week, I came out trying to force it and got real tired,” Lautt said. "So this week they told me to just wrestle your match and he’ll get tired.”
Head coach Coleman Scott elaborated on this strategy.
“We keep telling him it comes in the third and not in the first,” Scott said. "So he’s got to continue to build and that’s what he did and it came in the third.”
This was not the first time Hernandez and Luatt had come up huge for UNC.
Hernandez has gotten off to a great start this season after winning his first three matches, highlighted by two major decisions in his first two bouts.
“I’ve been getting to my offense a lot,” Hernandez said.
His ability to get points and prevent his opponents from taking him down has given his team a big spark this year. His improvements have been a constant aspect of North Carolina’s starting rotation.
Lautt has also made tremendous strides offensively, but the redshirt sophomore said his ability to pin down opponents has been with him for years. Like Hernandez, he also had several wins to start the year.
While he was content with the way Lautt and Hernandez wrestled, Scott knows both of his guys are capable of more. In fact, he said the whole team could have done better against an opponent that the Tar Heels believed was inferior.
“We should have blown them out of the water, and we didn’t,” Scott said.
Hernandez agreed with his coach and admitted that he has more in the tank that what fans saw from his already successful performance.
“I can definitely wrestle a lot better than that,” he said.
It may not have been the cleanest win, but the Tar Heels will take it, especially if it means Hernandez and Lautt will have the confidence to continue their hot streaks.
“I was a little slow to start, but all in all, we won," Hernandez said. "I won, the team won and it feels good to get another win as a team."
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