If you peered through the wide windows of Carmichael Arena’s main entrance as the final buzzer during Friday’s UNC - Duke wrestling dual sounded, you’d have seen North Carolina students running across a perfectly powdered Hooker Fields.
Similar to this weekend’s much-awaited flurries, Friday’s dual was a long time coming for the Tar Heels. It’s been over a month since their last dual, due to winter break as well as COVID-related cancellations. Despite this break, the Tar Heels returned to play with a convincing 29-6 win over their rivals to open ACC play.
As with any huge win, there were some gusts in the match, where No. 22 UNC blew Blue Devil wrestlers right off the mat. First-year 125-pounder Spencer Moore started the dual off, beating his opponent by 9 points. His teammate, redshirt junior Joe Heilmann, followed right after, winning his match against Duke’s Drake Doolittle by a decisive pin. Much later that night, redshirt sophomore Max Shaw earned a win by technical fall within his first frame of play, notching three near falls to do so.
But don’t let the final score fool you. North Carolina’s win was an accumulation of hours of slow, meticulous play from all ten wrestlers who stepped on the rubber mat in light blue.
Even veterans like No. 6 redshirt senior Austin O’Connor found themselves in highly-contested matches, where they had to focus on a slow build-up of points to win by decision.
“My main focus was to keep building,” O’Connor said. “I knew (Duke’s Wade Unger) was just going to stay and try to get position the whole match, and not really do much. I got that first takedown and felt him wearing a little bit after that. And I didn’t want to stop there so I got another one… and I was still looking for more.”
In a hallmark win of the night, No. 16 graduate Clay Lautt beat Duke’s No. 13 Matt Finesilver in a come-from-behind victory, despite two interruptions caused by an illegal hold call and a later challenge by Duke head coach Glen Lanham.
In the third period, Lautt took the momentary lull in play to reassess his strategy against Finesilver, allowing him to notch a last-minute escape and takedown to win.
“It was actually a miscue on my scouting,” Lautt said. “I thought he was going to throw a leg in on my right side earlier, so I ended up leaving my defense wide open on the left side. After the restart I knew he was going to come in on my left side, so I was prepared for that.”
But despite the huge win over Duke, UNC isn't content. This rivalry match was just the beginning of a conference schedule containing some of the toughest opposition in the country.
“We gotta start putting more together,” O'Connor said. “We want NC State, we want those tougher teams. We’ve beat Duke the past six years but it’s time to start winning ACC championships again.”
Friday night marked a critical building night for the UNC’s wrestling program. Sure, six straight victories over Duke is good, but this season, it's just the first brick of a massive building.
“We won a couple close ones, but you should expect to win those,” head coach Coleman Scott said. “To be dominant, you’re gonna have to find ways to win close matches. You can’t just go out there and expect to smash everybody. You will have guys that punch back and guys that fight, but that’s good. That’s what you want.”
@DTHSports | email@example.com
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