The No. 8 North Carolina wrestling program has arrived on the national scene this season, and celebrated how it got there this weekend.
The party started on Friday night when the Tar Heels beat Duke 44-3 in Carmichael Arena in front of loads of UNC wrestling alumni, who were in Chapel Hill for the program's alumni weekend. Although the Blue Devils haven’t managed to win a dual meet this season, it was still an impressive victory for North Carolina.
“I think we looked really good,” redshirt junior Kennedy Monday said. “From top to bottom, we wrestled really well. Coming off that Virginia Tech win, we fueled the momentum.”
But the night wasn’t just about the action on the mat-- it was about the program as a whole. A win over No. 3 Virginia Tech the previous week vaulted the Tar Heels to a top-10 ranking for the first time since 1995.
When head coach Coleman Scott got the job at UNC in 2015, he knew the program was capable of such a rapid ascent.
“It was actually a little slower than I thought it could be,” Scott said. “But our guys fought, and they believe in what our system is that we’re doing, and they love every day of it. It’s a great time for us and for them to get better and build on these matches.”
In his second season as the Tar Heels’ head coach in 2016, the team went 8-6 overall and placed fifth in the ACC. Still, they stayed positive.
That also happened to be Monday’s first year at UNC, and his father must have been able to see the future.
“It’s funny because my dad was actually talking to me my freshman year and saying we were going to be a top 10 program in a couple of years, and here we are now,” Monday said. “It’s an amazing feeling for all of the fans coming out and watching us do our thing. It’s a good time.”
North Carolina has impressed and is having fun while doing it. The Tar Heels broke out new uniforms for the Duke dual, a homage to the basketball team.
“We thought they were a really cool design, and we mocked it up into a singlet. I thought they looked slick,” Scott said. “It’s hard to compare basketball to wrestling, but it’s the least we could do for a storied program like they have.”
It’s clear that the wrestling program is on track to become a national contender — taking after that same basketball program — in the years to come, but the team has a big chance to prove it in the immediate future.
UNC will bring its top 10 ranking to Raleigh on Friday to face No. 4 N.C. State. The Wolfpack is coming off a 21-12 win over No. 10 Pittsburgh and look like the class of the ACC.
However, the Tar Heels are also undefeated in conference and could take over the driver's seat with a victory over their rivals.
“It’s personal, and we’re gonna go out there and make it personal,” redshirt junior Andrew Gunning said. “Last year we tied for the ACC with them, and we were all excited, we got the rings, but they’re not the same when you're tied.
"This year, we’re trying to make a statement and go in there and take them out.”
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