The No. 14 North Carolina wrestling team finished third in the ACC Wrestling Championship at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh on Sunday. The best performance came from redshirt junior Austin O'Connor, who won his second consecutive ACC title at 149 pounds.
With the exception of first-year Wil Guida, who lost in quarterfinals, every North Carolina wrestler made it to the semis, either by victory or by way of a bye round.
This UNC dominance included several noteworthy wins, including a 20-5 win on a technical fall for redshirt sophomore Joe Heilmann at 133 pounds, a 14-4 win at 184 pounds for redshirt senior Devin Kane and a 12-5 win for redshirt first-year Max Shaw at 197 pounds.
The semifinals also featured some admirable performances, but not as much success for the Tar Heels as a team. O’Connor and redshirt juniors Zach Sherman and Clay Lautt, all of whom had quarter-final byes, earned themselves spots in the NCAA Championship with wins in the semifinals. Other UNC wrestlers were not so lucky, and were defeated by their opponents.
The consolation semifinals gave unlucky Tar Heels another chance to wrestle, and Guida, redshirt senior Josh McClure, redshirt senior Kennedy Monday, Kane, Shaw and redshirt senior Andrew Gunning all secured wins to move on to the consolation finals, earning places at the NCAA Championships in March.
Sherman and Lautt finished as runners-up in their respective weight classes, while O’Connor came back from 6-0 down in the finals to secure a 10-8 title win over Virginia Tech's Bryce Andonian.
Who stood out?
O'Connor was the top-seeded wrestler in his weight class for the ACC Championship. He and two of his teammates, Sherman and Lautt, got quarterfinal byes for their weight classes on Sunday.
Sherman was the first of the three to wrestle in the semifinals, where he asserted his dominance with a 7-2 win over Virginia's Brian Courtney.
O’Connor was the next Tar Heel with a bye, proving his top-seed status by defeating Duke's Josh Finesilver by a score of 7-2 and earning himself a spot in the finals and the NCAA Championship alongside Sherman.
Lautt was the last of the three men to hit the mat on Sunday when he faced off against Victor Marcelli of Virginia. Lautt defeated Marcelli, 8-3, joining his teammates with a spot of his own at the NCAA Championship.
Sherman became the runner-up at 141 pounds after suffering a 10-1 loss in the finals to N.C. State's Tariq Wilson. O’Connor became the ACC Champion for the 149 weight class when he defeated Andonian, 10-8. Lautt lost to the Wolfpack's Daniel Bullard, 4-2, making him the runner-up at 174 pounds.
When was it decided?
At the end of the quarterfinals, North Carolina and Virginia were tied for first place with 8.5 points a piece. By the time the semifinals had finished, N.C. State had a significant lead of 62.5 points, with Virginia Tech in second place with 50.5 points and UNC in third with 40 points.
When N.C. State was leading Virginia Tech by 15 points at the end of the consolation semi-finals, it seemed like the ACC Championship was decided. The Tar Heels made a comeback to return to second place following the consolation finals, but they were still 12.5 points behind the Wolfpack.
North Carolina finished in third, with the Wolfpack and the Hokies finishing at first and second, respectively.
Why does it matter?
After winning the title last year, O'Connor was slated to be the No. 2 seed at the 2020 NCAA Championships prior to their cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With a second consecutive title under his belt, he will now look to translate that conference success into national championship glory.
As a team, UNC also finished third overall at the 2020 ACC Championships, giving the team back-to-back group podium finishes.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heel wrestlers who gained bids to the 2021 NCAA Championships will compete from March 18-20 in St. Louis.
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