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Wednesday October 5th

No. 21 UNC wrestling picks up big victories in 23-11 road loss to No. 7 Virginia Tech

Graduate student Kizhan Clarke wrestles Duke redshirt sophomore Patrick Rowland at the wrestling match against Duke University on Friday, Jan 21, 2022. UNC won 29-6.
Buy Photos Graduate student Kizhan Clarke wrestles Duke redshirt sophomore Patrick Rowland at the wrestling match against Duke University on Friday, Jan 21, 2022. UNC won 29-6.

After a big win at home to take down a ranked Pittsburgh team last week, No. 21 UNC wrestling (8-5, 3-1 ACC) fell 23-11 to No. 7 Virginia Tech (8-3, 3-1 ACC) at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Va. on Friday night.

What happened?

UNC wrestling’s five-match winning streak came to an end on Friday night as the team suffered its first loss in the ACC this season to a strong Virginia Tech roster.

UNC ran into some tough, ranked Virginia Tech wrestlers early on in the dual and never got their momentum back. Sam Latona, a Virginia Tech wrestler ranked No. 20 ranked in his 125-weight class, defeated UNC first-year Spencer Moore on a 10-5 decision.  

Redshirt junior Joe Heilman then fell to the No. 5-ranked Korbin Myers of VT by 8-2 in the 133-weight class. Heilmann’s loss gave the Virginia Tech Hokies the early 6-0 match lead, and they never looked back.

Who stood out? 

Despite an overall loss, the Tar Heels had several strong individual wins that will propel them forward going into the post-season.

No. 5 redshirt senior Austin O’Connor continued his dominance in the 157-weight class, picking up a win over the No. 26 ranked Connor Brady of Virginia Tech.

Kizhan Clarke, a 149-pound graduate student ranked No. 9, picked up a key win over No. 22 Collin Gerardi at a score of 6-2.

But it was Gavin Kane in the 184-pound weight class that shocked everyone. Kane, a redshirt first-year ranked No. 18 in the nation, upset Virginia Tech’s two-time NCAA all-American senior Hunter Bolen. The bout was tense throughout as Kane picked up the win through a 3-1 sudden victory.

When was it decided?

The two early losses in the 125 and 133-pound weight classes proved to be difficult to come back from. Virginia Tech had ranked wrestlers in all but one of the remaining weight classes. Even with UNC’s strong individual wins and an upset, it was hard to get the dual back.

Virginia Tech is shaping up to be one of the strongest programs in the country with athletes such as Mekhi Lewis ranked No.3 as well as three other wrestlers ranked in the top ten in their respective weight classes.

Why does it matter?

Last week, the Tar Heels downed No. 19 Pittsburgh at home in Carmichael Arena, pushing them out of the top-25 poll and moving UNC to the No. 21 position.

This was North Carolina’s second-to-last meet before the ACC Championships at the beginning of March. The ACC championships meet will be held in Charlottesville, Va. on Sunday, March 6.

Prior to this loss, UNC held steady at No.2 in the ACC wrestling standings on five-win streak, having yet to drop a dual to a conference team.

Virginia Tech was a tough opponent to meet on the road, but traveling to N.C. State next week will also prove to be challenging — and this loss won’t make it any easier.

The Tar Heels will need to make up for lost momentum this week ahead of the N.C State meet in order to close out their regular season on a high note ahead of ACC and NCAA tournaments.

When do they play next?

The Tar Heels will stay local this week as they travel to Raleigh on Friday February 18, to take on No. 4 rivals, N.C. State. This will be their last regular season match. The match will begin at 7pm on Friday, tickets will be available, and it will be streamed on ACC network.

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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