A battle of two top-15 teams saw the No. 14 North Carolina wrestling team (2-2, 1-2 ACC) fall to No. 8 Virginia Tech (7-0, 3-0 ACC), 23-9, dealing them two losses in two days.
The No. 1 wrestler at 149 pounds, redshirt junior Austin O’Connor, proved his status at the top with an 11-4 victory over No. 12 Bryce Andonian. Andonian is a familiar foe for O’Connor, as the two have now met up three times, with O’Connor winning all three bouts.
O’Connor, however, would be the only Tar Heel to triumph over a ranked opponent. The rest of the night wasn’t as spectacular for UNC. A marquee matchup saw the Hokies’ No. 1 Mekhi Lewis win a close match over No. 8 redshirt senior Kennedy Monday, 4-3, at 165 pounds. Unranked Dakota Howard upset No. 9 redshirt senior Devin Kane in a nail-bitingly close 8-7 win at 174 pounds. But No. 15 redshirt junior Clay Lautt was unable to cause an upset himself, losing by a score of 8-3 to No. 2 Hunter Bolen at 184 pounds.
O’Connor didn’t think that two dual meets in two days had caused much fatigue and said that the team is ready to respond to this kind of challenge.
“The team took a little bit of a beating this weekend, but I think that it’s started a fire,” O'Connor said. “Now we gotta come back to the practice room and train our butts off.”
O’Connor said the energy on the bench improved from Friday’s clash with NC State, seeing teammates cheer each other on. He also wasn’t worried by the weekend’s results.
“Every match counts, and we’re [staying] in a bunch of matches,” O'Connor said. "Tomorrow, we keep training, and when the time comes, we’re gonna be ready to compete.”
Who stood out?
O’Connor’s near-major-decision win over a ranked opponent was one of the few bright spots for the Tar Heels, with No. 10 redshirt junior Zach Sherman and redshirt first-year Max Shaw adding to UNC’s three victories in the afternoon.
When was it decided?
Two early major decision victories in a row left the score at 10-0 and put UNC under pressure early. A response of two straight regular decisions wasn’t enough, as Virginia Tech notched four straight regular decision wins to effectively bury the match.
Why does it matter?
This is UNC’s first loss to Virginia Tech in over two years and second loss in two days after a 28-10 defeat to No. 3 N.C. State on Friday. Losing to two top-ten teams might give the Tar Heels food for thought in terms of how close the team is to becoming a premier threat in the country.
O’Connor, however, doesn’t want to attach too much to early season results. He said the team is capable of replicating a feat they achieved in the ACC Tournament last year.
“We [can] start turning [matches] over like we did at the end of year during the ACC Tournament where we beat three or four kids in the final earlier in the year,” O'Connor said. “We reach our goals at the end of the year."
When do they play next?
UNC will travel to Pittsburgh to face off against the Pitt Panthers (3-2, 1-2 ACC) on Feb. 5.
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