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Thursday May 26th

UNC wrestling bouncing back, looking ahead to top-10 matchups after canceled meets

<p>UNC's Zach Sherman, a redshirt sophomore at the time, wrestles against Arizona State redshirt junior Cory Crooks in Carmichael Arena on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020.&nbsp;</p>
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UNC's Zach Sherman, a redshirt sophomore at the time, wrestles against Arizona State redshirt junior Cory Crooks in Carmichael Arena on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. 

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges for the North Carolina wrestling team thus far, the Tar Heels are excited to get back to some type of familiarity.

The season began on the wrong foot before the team’s opening meet against Campbell, as the Tar Heels were unable to participate due to unspecified coronavirus-related issues within the team. Then, following a 45-0 win over Gardner-Webb in UNC's return, the team was sidelined once again, postponing its dual meet against Virginia Tech that was originally scheduled for Jan. 15.

Still, despite these unique circumstances, the Tar Heels found a way to respond. Following a 12-day hiatus, the team opened its ACC slate with a 29-9 victory over Duke on Jan. 22.

Head coach Coleman Scott said he knows this year has been difficult for his wrestlers, but is proud of how the team has been able to persevere through adversity.

“We’ve had to make some adjustments, but these guys have been able to handle this like men,” Scott said. “We can’t worry about the uncertainties, and it’s hard not to, but we’ve got to keep focused on what we can do and what we can handle.”  

This sentiment has also made its way down to the wrestlers, who have made it their focus to remain as tightly knit as possible.  

“I think just staying consistent with our training and competing with ourselves in the room just helps us continue to grow and get better,” redshirt junior Austin O’Connor said. 

Now that things have returned to some type of normalcy, the team is in the midst of a quick turnaround, facing North Carolina State and Virginia Tech on Friday and Saturday, respectively. 

Although having bouts on consecutive days is a challenging proposition for any team, Scott said he believes this stretch will simulate what lies ahead in postseason play, when teams are consistently going through a similar process.

“You’re going to be at a high of a high or a low of a low and you have to be able to turn it around in a few hours, and you don’t have that option later in the year,” he said. “It’s all about channeling those emotions and putting our best foot forward the next day.”

Controlling the mental and physical aspects of play will be critical, given the strength of the Tar Heels' upcoming opponents. Both N.C. State and Virginia Tech currently sit in the top 10 of the National Wrestling Coaches Association poll, coming in at third and eighth, respectively.

Although UNC is ranked No. 14 in the nation, Scott said this group has found motivation in being ranked beneath other ACC foes. If the Tar Heels wish to reach the lofty goals they set for this season, including a top-five ranking and postseason success, these meets will give them an opportunity to make a statement to the rest of the ACC and beyond. 

“We should wrestle with a little chip on our shoulder — we’ve got nothing to lose,” he said. “We feel like we’re the better team and that’s the way we need to compete, because (these other teams) are good.”

In these upcoming matchups, the Tar Heels will rely on their leaders, O'Connor and redshirt senior Kennedy Monday, to push them over the top. Monday has been a steady veteran presence for this team, and O’Connor was a first-team All-American who led UNC with a 25-1 season record a year ago.

Despite all of the uncertainty the team once faced, the Tar Heels are ready to seize the moment.

“Our team has been training since August, so I think we’re ready for these matches,” Monday said. “Coleman has been putting us through some hard practices, and now it’s time to shine.”

@nelsonhunter_

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com




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