The No. 12 North Carolina wrestling team continued its rise to national prominence with an upset victory over No. 3 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Friday night. The Tar Heels earned multiple surprising wins en route to a 23-10 final score.
The theme of upsets started early with redshirt first-year Joey Melendez defeating No. 11 Joey Prata 8-7 in the first bout of the dual at 125-pounds. However, the momentum that came from the Melendez's big win was quickly squashed as Virginia Tech won the 133-pound bout by decision, making the team score 3-3.
That didn't last long, though, because No. 12 Zach Sherman picked up a ranked victory over No. 18 Mitch Moore at 141-pounds to give the Tar Heels momentum and a 6-3 lead. No. 2 Austin O'Connor then picked up a decision at 149-pounds, putting UNC in the driver's seat with a 9-3 lead.
The next two matches were going to decide the dual.
At 157-pounds, No. 19 A.C. Headlee picked up a 3-2 decision against No. 18 B.C. LaPrade, scoring the bouts' only takedown and stretching the North Carolina lead.
The next bout was a tough one for the UNC. No. 17 Kennedy Monday was set to take on No. 3 David McFadden at 165-pounds. But McFadden turned out to be no match for Monday, with the Tar Heel picking up a 21-7 technical fall victory, adding five points to the North Carolina total and pushing the team score to 17-3.
The dual was all but decided at this point but UNC picked up two more wins by decision at 174- and 197-pounds from Clay Lautt and Brandon Whitman, respectively.
Those victories brought the final team score to 23-10, a statement win for UNC over the Hokies.
Who stood out?
Monday was the star of the dual for the Tar Heels. The redshirt junior wasn't expected to beat the No. 3 wrestler in his weight class, but he won convincingly.
He scored 10 points in the first period to take a commanding lead into the rest of the bout and earned a takedown in the third period to end it. The victory was huge for UNC, adding five points to the team score and all but ending the dual.
Melendez was the other stand out performer for North Carolina. His 8-7 upset victory over the No. 11 wrestler in his weight class set the tone for the rest of the meet and gave the Tar Heels belief.
When was it decided?
The dual was decided after Monday got his big win at 165-pounds. The 17-3 lead was insurmountable for the Hokies, especially with UNC winning two of the last four bouts.
Why does it matter?
There is no question that North Carolina wrestling is on the rise. In the next rankings, the Tar Heels will likely be top 10 in the country and have established themselves as one of the better programs in the country.
This victory also puts UNC in the driver's seat in the ACC. The Tar Heels are one of four ranked teams in the conference, along with Virginia Tech, N.C. State and Pittsburgh. They are the only team to pick up a victory over one of the other ranked teams, giving them an edge in conference play moving forward.
When do they play next?
North Carolina has another ACC matchup on Jan. 31 against Duke in Carmichael Arena. The dual meet is set to start at 7 p.m.
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