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The Daily Tar Heel

Austin O'Connor's triumph caps off NCAA Championships for UNC wrestling

UNC's redshirt sophomore Austin O'Connor wrestles Pittsburgh redshirt sophomore Dallas Bulsak in Carmichael Arena on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020. O'Connor became Carolina's first national champion in over 25 years on March 20.

The North Carolina wrestling team participated in the NCAA Championships this past weekend, March 18-20, in St. Louis, Missouri. The team had eight wrestlers scheduled to compete at Enterprise Center.

Day One

Redshirt juniors Austin O’Connor and Zach Sherman kicked off the weekend with victories in their opening matches, which advanced them to the quarterfinals on Friday.

Sherman secured a 2-0 win against Saul Ervin of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and later added a 14-1 win over No. 26 Colin Valdiviez of Northwestern. O’Connor also won both of his matches, defeating No. 31 Cory Crooks from Arizona State and No. 15 Griffin Parriott from Purdue.

There were five other Tar Heels that won matches on Thursday.

Redshirt senior Josh McClure lost his first match against No. 4 Jesse Dellavecchia from Rider, but bounced back with a win in the wrestlebacks against No. 20 Cody Bond from Appalachian State — his first career win at the NCAA Wrestling Championships. 

Kennedy Monday, Clay Lautt, Devin Kane and Max Shaw all lost their first matches, but ultimately came back in the wrestleback rounds to beat their opponents.

Redshirt senior Andrew Gunning lost to the No. 2 seed in heavyweight, Mason Parris. In his wrestleback match against Virginia Tech’s Hunter Catka, he lost in sudden victory, 3-1.

Day Two

O’Connor secured a spot in the finals on Saturday by beating Appalachian State’s Jonathan Millner, 5-2, and Missouri’s Brock Mauller, completing a 30-second ride in the back half of the first tiebreaker.

O’Connor became the first Tar Heel since 1996 to make it to the finals.

Sherman lost his first match of the day, but came back in his second match against Oklahoma’s Dom Demas. He used a ride-out in the overtime tiebreaker to secure the victory. His win gave him All-American honors and scheduled him to wrestle for seventh place on the final day.

Lautt and Kane made it to the Round of 12, but both lost in their prospective matches, which ended their time in the tournament. McClure, Monday and Shaw were also eliminated after losing their opening wrestleback matches on Friday. 

For McClure and Monday, this was the last time they would take the mat as a Tar Heel.

Day Three

On the final day of the championships, O’Connor became a national champion for the Tar Heels. He pulled out a victory against No. 1 Sammy Sasso of Ohio State, crowning him the 149-pound NCAA Champion.

O’Connor is UNC’s sixth national champion in wrestling.

Despite there being no scoring in the first minute and a half, O’Connor eventually escaped Sasso to secure the first point of the match. Eventually, Sasso tied the match in the third period with quick escape seconds.

But with 32 seconds remaining, O’Connor took down Sasso, which earned him two points and a 3-1 lead. Although Sasso would collect another riding time point, O’Connor hung on to win the match, 3-2.

O’Connor finished his season undefeated, 13-0, and became the school’s first champion since 1995. 

@dthsports |

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