Melendez, a redshirt first-year and the youngest member of the group, met Hernandez in high school at the Illinois state championship. He was then introduced to Sherman through Hernandez at a meet later on in their high school careers.
Lautt didn’t join the group until college.
“I was stuck in Kansas, I didn’t know anybody,” he added, to the amusement of his housemates.
Once Hernandez, Lautt and Sherman arrived on campus for their first semester in 2017, the trio hit it off immediately, all living in the same dorm as first-years.
“We would pretty much always hang out,” Hernandez said.
Following a redshirt year for Hernandez, 15 bouts for Lautt and an appearance at the NCAA championships for Sherman, Melendez arrived in Chapel Hill. After a high school career in which he only lost 12 matches over four years, he joined a team that would go on to win its first share of the regular season ACC championship since 2002.
Last year, Melendez and Sherman redshirted, and North Carolina put together its best NCAA championships performance since 1995, paving the road to continued national prominence in 2020. With Hernandez, Melendez, Sherman and Lautt slotted to earn starting spots for the 2019-20 campaign, they decided to rent an off-campus house together.
“Both of my roommates graduated. Not that I downgraded or anything,” Sherman said, smirking at his teammates. “We were all just close friends, so it worked out pretty well. We had a feeling it would work.”
Before the season started, the four housemates would regularly spend extra hours at the team’s facilities cutting weight, key in preparing for a grueling schedule filled with competition from seven teams currently ranked in the top 25.
They would often be the last four in the facilities early in the season, working until 9 or 10 p.m. In a combat sport that is often considered to be one of the most grueling at the collegiate level, the roommates look for comfort in shared experience.
“The best thing about this is just people you can relate to," Lautt said. "You go up to someone on the street, and they don’t know what we do: we wake up at 7:30 and get home at six. I can’t feel sorry for myself because they’re doing the same thing. We just know how to get the best out of each other.”
All four have seen major improvements in their on-the-mat performance, with Sherman working his way to a top-25 ranking and Hernandez, Lautt and Melendez earning consistent starting roles for the first time in their UNC careers.
So far, the group has amassed dominant records as individuals through the 2019-20 season, making them all legitimate contenders for an appearance at the NCAA championships in March. Their respective journeys to the pinnacle of collegiate wrestling have shared one common theme: patient dedication.
Melendez and Hernandez spent their first year in Chapel Hill as redshirts, with both competing for the Tar Heels in tournament-style meets while watching upperclassmen take on starting roles.
Sherman and Lautt, on the other hand, were the only two first-years in the 2017 recruiting class to be put on as full members of the team. In wrestling, a redshirt season is common in an athlete's first year on-campus.
“I think it’s the lowest points that make us closest,” Lautt said. “Specifically Zach, our freshman year, we were the only two that didn’t redshirt, so we hit some of the lowest of lows that you could think of. It was a pretty rough year for both of us.”
Through shared struggle, an off-the-mat bond formed between the roommates, who share very similar routines. They have similar class schedules, practice together, sit together mat-side at meets and eat the same meals.
“Or don’t eat a lot of the same meals,” Melendez said, referencing his regimented weight-cutting diet.
When you walk into the house shared by these four wrestlers, the first thing that comes to mind may not be regimented living. At any given time, you could see their house pet, a two-foot-long bearded dragon, wandering around. You might also see the four yelling and cheering over a game of FIFA.
When compared to the high-pressure bouts that the four take part in on any given Friday during the winter months, a video game may seem insignificant. But in their household, the same competitive spirit from the mats shines through when it comes to FIFA.
“We play a lot of FIFA, a lot of FIFA,” Sherman said. “It gets very intense.”
“Sherman’s a very animated character when it comes to FIFA,” Lautt added. “He turns into a couch dweller.”
Sherman, Melendez, Hernandez and Lautt are also almost always seen next to each other on the bench at North Carolina’s dual meets.
There’s always an added excitement for the four when one of their roommates is wrestling. They are the first to celebrate when one of them succeeds, and they are the first to provide support when one struggles. When Lautt was the only UNC wrestler to lose in the dual against Duke, Ramos says his roommates were right there to pick him up.
“They always have each other’s backs when it comes down to anything, and that’s a big thing that really helps them succeed on and off the mat,” Ramos said. “They’re always there for each other when things don’t go the way they want it to.”
While the four have had only a handful of losing performances this season, the daily effort behind the scenes is where the group mentality has had its biggest impact. This shared drive has given the roommates a hope to end the season with a level of national success that the program has not seen in decades.
“When you all understand that we have a common goal, and that’s to be the best in the country, we don’t want anything short of that,” Sherman said.
“I’ve seen that from all three of these guys, including myself. Especially this year, if you strive for perfection you’re going to achieve greatness at some point. So that’s what we’ve been doing, shooting for the stars to land on the moon.”
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