The No. 14 North Carolina wrestling team (1-0) opened its season with a 29-6 win over Life University (0-1) Monday afternoon in the Tar Heels first of two duals on Monday.
UNC first-year Spencer Moore started his collegiate career against one of the Running Eagles’ top wrestlers, Bradon Orum. Orum came into the match as the top ranked NAIA wrestler in the 125-pound division. After a tightly contested match, a last-second escape in the final period by Moore secured a 3-2 personal win over Orum, and got the Tar Heels off to a 3-0 lead in the team scoring.
The 133-pound and 141-pound matches featured two of the eight ranked Tar Heel wrestlers: No. 13 Jaime Hernandez and No. 14 Kizhan Clarke. Hernandez’s major decision victory and Clarke’s first individual win as a Tar Heel extended UNC’s lead to 11-0.
UNC’s second and third major decision victories of the dual came by way of redshirt-seniors Zach Sherman and Austin O’Connor in the 149-pound and 157-pound matches, respectively. The two dominant individual victories increased UNC’s lead to 18-0.
UNC continued its domination over the Running Eagles with decision victories at 165 and 174 pounds by redshirt first-years Sonny Santiago and Gavin Kane.
A tightly-contested 185-pound match between Myles Starke of Life and UNC redshirt-junior Mark Chaid appeared as an opportunity for the Running Eagles to get on the board. Chaid’s late period escape helped him receive the victory by decision and pushed the Tar Heels lead to 27-0.
UNC redshirt-sophomore Max Shaw came in ranked No. 23 for the 197-pound weight class. However, Zane Lanham didn’t let Shaw’s ranking intimidate him as he defeated Shaw by pin in the final period, putting Life on the board with six points. The Tar Heels also lost two team points during the match for unsportsmanlike deductions to make the score 25-6.
The final dual match of the day featured senior Brandon Whitman at 285 pounds. His dominant, major decision victory of 8-0 concluded the match with a 29-6 victory for the Tar Heels over Life.
Who stood out?
Redshirt senior’s Austin O’Connor and Zach Sherman came into the dual as the highest ranked Tar Heels for their respective weight classes, ranking second and fifth, respectively. The two highly-touted wrestlers did not disappoint as they both posted dominant individual victories with Sherman winning 13-2 and O’Connor capturing a 12-4 individual win.
In addition to strong experience, UNC should be encouraged by its young core of wrestlers. First-year Spencer Moore and redshirt-first-year Gavin Kane looked impressive in their first victories of the season.
When was it decided?
The back-to-back major decision victories by Sherman and O’Connor pushed the Tar Heels lead to 18-0, and UNC never looked back. Three straight decision victories for UNC pushed the lead to 27-0.
Despite a surprising pin defeat in the 197 pound-division, the Tar Heels bounded back in the heavyweight match with Whitman’s major decision victory wrapping up the match with UNC winning 29-6.
Why does it matter?
Opening the season with a dominant victory was exactly what the Tar Heels needed. Coming off a 5-2 campaign a season ago, UNC is looking to live up to its preseason No. 14 ranking and contend for an ACC dual championship.
Individually, O’Connor looked impressive in his opening match as he looks to compete for his second NCAA individual title.
When do they play next?
UNC’s second dual begins Monday at 7 p.m. when the Tar Heels meet Queens University for the first time in program history.
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