The No. 20 North Carolina wrestling team secured a hard-fought 17-15 victory against unranked Appalachian State on Friday night in a non-conference dual meet at Varsity Gym in Boone, N.C.
In the first match, UNC first-year Spencer Moore took on No. 31 App State Caleb Smith at 125 lbs. Smith used an escape and a takedown to go up 3-0 and utilized the early lead to pick up a 7-3 decision over Moore. In the following match, UNC was able to even the dual meet score 3-3 after redshirt junior Joe Heilmann earned a 4-3 decision over No. 23 App State Codi Russell at 133 lbs.
In a decisive third match, No. 9 graduate Kizhan Clarke downed App State's Heath Gonyer by way of a 7-3 decision at 141 lbs to put the Tar Heels up 6-3. However, the Mountaineers were able to knot up the score 6-6 when No. 17 redshirt senior Zach Sherman fell to No. 7 App State Jonathan Miller with a 5-2 decision in the 149 lbs match.
At the midway point of the dual, UNC's 157 lbs national champion redshirt senior Austin O’Connor earned a 12-3 major decision over App State's Cody Bond to give the Tar Heels a commanding 10-6 lead. After coming back from the break, No. 25 App State Will Formato got his team back in it with a 5-0 decision over redshirt first-year Sonny Santiago at 165 lbs, making the score 10-9.
In the closest battle of the night yet, No. 9 graduate Clay Lautt suffered a tough defeat to App State's Thomas Flitz in a 6-5 decision at 174 lbs, which put the Mountaineers up 12-10. Nevertheless, No. 21 redshirt first-year Gavin Kane gained a crucial win in the following match over App State's Barrett Blakely at 184 lbs to put the Tar Heels back up 13-12.
In the second to last match, No. 30 redshirt sophomore Max Shaw extended UNC’s lead 17-12 with a 10-1 major decision over App State's Mason Fiscella at 197 lbs. In the final bout of the night, senior Brandon Whitman took on App State Michael Burchell in the heavyweight match. Burchell took the match 3-2 to end the night — however, the Tar Heels still came away with the close 17-15 victory over the Mountaineers.
Who stood out?
O’Connor and Shaw stood out with the two major decision victories for the Tar Heels. The extra fourth point given to North Carolina for each of the major decisions was the deciding factor of the dual meet, considering UNC won by two points.
Nonetheless, this was most certainly an all-around team win as the Tar Heels needed every point available to pull out the nail-biter victory.
When was it decided?
The meet was decided in the ninth match when Shaw’s pivotal win put Carolina up 17-12. This meant that even if the Mountaineers were able to capture a major decision in the final match, the Tar Heels would have still been triumphant by a single point.
Why does it matter?
This was a momentous non-conference victory for UNC after it suffered back-to-back defeats at the Garden State Grapple tournament against No. 19 Wisconsin and No. 15 Rutgers three weeks ago. In addition, O’Connor’s major decision makes it 94 victories for him, now six away from the famed 100 wins for his career.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will travel to NOW Arena in Hoffman Estates, Ill. on Dec. 29-30 for the 58th Ken Kraft Midlands Championships, which will be taking place all day during those two weekdays.
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