The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday January 20th

No. 14 North Carolina wrestling falls to Rutgers, Wisconsin in Garden State Grapple

No. 2 redshirt senior Austin O'Connor, defending national champion, pins his opponent to win a match against a Campbell University opponent on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021. UNC wrestling beat Campbell 24-12.
Buy Photos No. 2 redshirt senior Austin O'Connor, defending national champion, pins his opponent to win a match against a Campbell University opponent on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021. UNC wrestling beat Campbell 24-12.

The No. 14 North Carolina wrestling team fell to both No. 15 Rutgers and No. 19 Wisconsin in the Garden State Grapple this Saturday in the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

What happened?

After a few early match wins against Wisconsin, UNC ultimately lost the dual, 20-16, and struggled against Rutgers later in the night, dropping the second dual 28-9 to the Scarlet Knights. 

The Garden State Grapple marks the first time the Tar Heels and the Badgers met on the mat since 2013, and the Badgers currently hold a 10-3-1 advantage against UNC after their victory this weekend. 

Who stood out? 

Early wins in Newark brought some big decisions in favor of the Tar Heels.

No. 2 redshirt senior Austin O’Connor picked up a major 13-5 decision against Wisconsin’s Garrett Model, and earned his second win of the night against Rutgers’ Robert Kanniard, 12-6. O’Connor came into the dual as the reigning national champion with a perfect 13-0 record, however he entered the dual coming off his first loss against Nebraska’s Peyton Robb last week, tarnishing his perfect record. 

Graduate student Clay Lautt, ranked No. 22 in his division at the beginning of the tournament, also had an impressive showing, emerging victorious over Wisconsin’s No. 8 Andrew McNally, 6-1. Lautt held a significant lead against McNally, up 2-0 after the first three minutes of the match and 3-1 after the second period. He finished the night with a 4-0 decision over Rutgers’ Connor O’Neil after holding a 3-0 lead after the second period, and was moved up to No. 15 in the 174-pound weight class. 

No. 10 Kizhan Clarke, who recently brought home the ACC Co-Wrestler of the Week award earlier this month, also had a good night against Wisconsin’s Joseph Zargo, emerging with a 9-5 decision in the match. However, Clarke did not compete in the Rutgers dual later in the night against No. 4 Sebastian Rivera, which forced a forfeit. 

When was it decided?

UNC’s meet against Wisconsin was close, but ultimately boiled down to major decisions ruled against the Tar Heels’ redshirt first-year Sonny Santiago and first-year Spencer Moore. 

A forfeit loss against Rutgers’ Rivera and only three UNC match wins total, coupled with a 12-1 major decision over UNC’s Mason Phillips and a fall at 3:10 over redshirt junior Mark Chaid in the dual against Rutgers resulted in a large margin of victory for the Scarlet Knights. 

Why does it matter?

The Tar Heels came into the tournament hoping to hold their No. 14 ranking against Rutgers, and a pair of North Carolina wins would have marked UNC’s first win over a top-15 team since beating Pittsburgh in a dual in February. 

Especially since the team was led by big names like O’Connor and Clarke, and coming off of a victory against Campbell University last Sunday, the double-loss against big foes drops the team’s record to 3-4 on the season, and the team will likely fall in the national rankings. 

When do they play next?

UNC goes back on the road to face Appalachian State in Boone, N.C., on Friday, Dec. 17. The match will begin at 7 p.m. 

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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