The No. 24 North Carolina wrestling team entered Charlottesville, Va. looking to continue its recent string of dominating performances that included a 29-6 win over Duke and 37-6 win over Little Rock.
They would face a Virginia squad that had just lost to No. 19 Pitt and was looking to bounce back, but the Tar Heels would eventually leave as 17-16 winners.
The match opened with the 133 pounders and the return of UNC redshirt senior Jaime Hernandez to the mat for the first time since November. The No. 10 wrestler in the country for his class engaged in an extremely even match against UVA’s No. 23 Brian Courtney and the match eventually went to overtime. In overtime, Courtney managed to take the sudden death victory giving UVA a 3-0 lead in match score. Graduate Kizhan Clarke continued his undefeated season with a victory over Dylan Cedeno and tied the score up at 3-3.
UNC was able to expand its lead over UVA with two ranked wins by redshirt seniors Zach Sherman and Austin O’Connor that gave UNC a 9-3 lead before UVA’s Justin McCoy was able to stem the bleeding for the Cavaliers and keep the match within reach for UVA. After five of the 10 matches of the day had been waged, UNC had a narrow 9-6 lead with the match still up for grabs.
UNC seemed to put the match out of reach with a victory by graduate Clay Lautt over Vic Marcelli that was followed up by an exemplary effort by redshirt first-year Gavin Kane over UVA’s Michael Battista. Kane’s margin of victory of 12 points meant that the match ended in a major decision, which awarded UNC 4 points instead of the 3 that most bouts typically result in. As the match entered its home stretch, UNC now had a 16-6 lead and was looking for its fourth win in a row however UVA had other plans.
The Cavaliers immediately bounced back with a major decision of their own by Jay Aiello and a win in the heavyweight bout by Quinn Miller over senior Brandon Whitman to make the score 16-13 heading into the final bout of the day between the 125 pounders.
In a tense, close matchup UVA’s Patrick McCormick defeated Spencer Moore to tie the score up at 16-16 and required a tiebreaker. Based on UNC having scored 53 total points to UVA’s 45, the Tar Heels were awarded the match victory.
Who stood out?
The Tar Heels had important performances by Sherman and O’Connor who were able to defeat ranked opponents early in the match and put UNC in the driver’s seat early, a position that the team never gave up. Kane was also crucial to victory with his major decision victory over the No 22 wrestler in the 184 pound weight class. His large margin of victory also helped UNC greatly in the tiebreaker.
When was it decided?
Lautt’s victory followed by Kane’s gave UNC a 10-point lead with only three matches left and effectively put the match out of reach barring a miracle by UVA. The performances that the two wrestlers put on were crucial to the match victory.
Why does it matter?
As UNC looks to continue progressing up the national rankings following a set of tough defeats to ranked opponents, it will benefit from tough competition like this in the lead-up to a tough finish to its conference schedule. The win also keeps UNC level with NC State in the lead for the top spot in the ACC standings.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will compete in the Appalachian Open on Saturday, Jan. 29 in Boone, N.C. before a finishing out the season against three ranked ACC opponents.
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