The No. 7 North Carolina wrestling team took third place at the ACC Championships this weekend, finishing with three individual champions for the first time since 2006.
Redshirt sophomore Zach Sherman took UNC’s first title of the night in the 141-pound division. Sherman’s campaign did not start until the championship bout after a first round bye and a medical forfeit from his semifinal opponent.
In his only match of the day, Sherman took out the ACC’s No. 1 seed in the 141-pound division in N.C. State’s Tariq Wilson. The bout saw plenty of back-and-forth, with Sherman holding on to win his first ACC title with a 5-4 final after an unsuccessful challenge from the Wolfpack in the bout's closing moments.
Redshirt sophomore Austin O’Connor, the No. 3 ranked wrestler in his weight class nationally, gave the Tar Heels their second individual title of the weekend.
O’Connor ran away with the championship after a dominant 5-0 victory led him into the weight class' final bout. The redshirt sophomore went into the championship bout on a mission, taking a high scoring 11-7 decision to earn his first ACC title.
Redshirt sophomore Clay Lautt gave UNC its final title of the weekend in the 174-pound division. Lautt fought his way through three rounds of action, pushing through an upset victory over his division's No. 1 seed in the semifinals and earning a spot in the finals.
In the championship bout, he earned his first ACC title with a win over N.C. State’s Daniel Bullard after taking an early lead and never looking back.
All told, North Carolina had six wrestlers earn automatic bids to the NCAA Championships. The three championship winners earned bids, and redshirt sophomore Jamie Hernandez, redshirt senior A.C. Headlee and sophomore Brandon Whitman all earned automatic bids in their respective divisions as well.
Who stood out?
Lautt’s victories stood out as the most impressive performance for the Tar Heels.
The redshirt sophomore came in as the No. 4 seed and tore his way through three bouts in order to solidify his spot in the NCAA Championships. His upset victory over top-ranked Gregg Harvey of Pittsburgh displays just how impressive his championship run was.
When was it decided?
Despite qualifying five wrestlers to the championship round, the Tar Heels found themselves on the outside looking in of a team championship by the time the final session rolled around.
After redshirt junior Kennedy Monday, the No. 1 seed in the 165-pound division, was upset before the championship round, North Carolina saw its team championship hopes evaporate. In a conference that boasts three top-10 teams, there was little room for error for UNC, and Monday’s loss sank North Carolina’s chances.
Why does it matter?
For a North Carolina team that has seen its best season so far this century, Sunday’s results represent continued signs of progress. With six automatic qualifiers to the NCAA Championships, the Tar Heels will hope to send more wrestlers to Minneapolis when the brackets are announced on March 11.
When do they play next?
North Carolina will send at least six wrestlers to the NCAA Championships from March 21-23, in Minneapolis, MN.
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