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UNC wrestling defends house in win over Campbell

Redshirt senior Jaime Hernandez grabs the first points for the Tar Heels of the match in Carmichael on Nov. 21, 2021. The Tar Heels beat Campbell 24-12.

North Carolina fans filled the stands for UNC wrestling’s second home dual of the season. The meet was noticeably energized — students and parents alike stood up at culminating moments of match-ups, offering words of support for competitors and challenging the decisions of officials. 

It was loud. It was chaotic. But one voice rang through multiple times during the dual.

“It’s your house!” chanted one UNC wrestling fan. “Defend it!”

And they did just that.

With a 24-12 win over Campbell, UNC bounced back from a pair of rough road losses to Ohio State and Nebraska to improve to 3-2 on the season.

In many ways, this match served as a reset button on a season that has quickly proved tumultuous for the Tar Heel wrestling squad.

“So far, we’ve had a tough schedule this year,” redshirt first-year Gavin Kane said. “It definitely feels good to be back home in Chapel Hill. And when we get a crowd like this that starts to get involved with the matches, with the chants and all that, everyone starts wrestling better.”

The start to the dual — much like UNC’s season thus far — proved to be rocky.

After the Tar Heels dropped their first bout of the night, redshirt senior Jaime Hernandez stepped to the mat and notched three takedowns in the second period to secure a decision win, giving UNC its first points of the match. 

Still, head coach Coleman Scott appeared visibly upset with Hernandez in the final minutes of his bout.

“Jaime dominated the entire match but he gave up two third period takedowns to lose the major decision,” Scott said. “And it didn’t sit well with me, and their bench was cheering and losing by seven. I’m never gonna cheer for a loss — I wanted to see a little bit more (effort).”

After the 131-pound match, graduate student Kizhan Clarke defeated Campbell’s Shannon Hanna. However, No. 6 Zach Sherman failed to build onto this early lead, losing in a contentious overtime battle to No. 16 John Heil. 

This upset came after a penalty point call in the fourth extra period, and seemed to momentarily take the wind out of UNC’s sails. That was until defending national champion Austin O’Connor took the mat. 

The No. 2 ranked O’Connor was aggressive, attacking early and often. He forced Matthew Dallara of the Fighting Camels to backtrack, and got multiple stalling calls in his favor. 

“After the first two stall calls, I knew right away that he didn’t want to wrestle me, he didn’t want to be out there,” O’Connor said. “If he’s not gonna come after me, I’m gonna keep getting these stallings, so I’m going to take this opportunity to stall him out of the match and get six points for the team.”

O’Connor’s win by disqualification doubled UNC’s score, putting the team ahead in the dual at 12-6. The Tar Heels never looked back, going on to win their next four bouts before forfeiting in the heavyweight division due to injury. 

With its win over Campbell, UNC extends its home dual win streak to four. But for O’Connor, success at Carmichael Arena has a deeper meaning.

“I love wrestling in here, I’m undefeated in here,” said O’Connor. “This is my home, this is where I want to compete. I’m so glad that I was able to do that again tonight — I really look forward to these duals.”

The Tar Heels will travel up to New York this Friday for the Garden State Grapple, a double-dual event on Nov. 27. 

According to Scott, the team is looking to build upon tonight’s performance and continue putting forth their best effort against the upcoming competition.

“It’s all about performance,” Scott said. “The rest will take care of itself. That’s all I’m looking at — score more and win every position.”  

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Shelby Swanson

Shelby Swanson is the 2023-24 sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as an assistant sports editor and senior writer. Shelby is a junior pursuing a double major in media and journalism and Hispanic literatures and cultures.