Following a recent run of success that has included a national championship for wrestler Austin O'Connor in 2021, the sixth-year senior said he believes the UNC wrestling team has earned a new practice room.
"We have already done things this program hasn't seen in over 20 years, so I think we are finally getting recognized," he said.
In the fall of 2019, UNC began plans for a new wrestling facility that were unfortunately halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the university began to return to normalcy, the program was looking to upgrade its current wrestling facility. At the end of the Tar Heels' 2021-2022 season, the coaching staff went to UNC administration to highlight the safety issues in their practice space.
The mats the team had been practicing on were aging and becoming soft. Their foam started to break down, get torn up and form divots in sparse areas causing more injuries — particularly ankle problems — for the team. It was a want but also a need, and the administration answered.
After receiving the new mats the week of Sept. 25, the UNC wrestling squad came together to move them into the soon-to-be upgraded space.
"It became a team bonding activity for the guys with a simple reward," head coach Coleman Scott said. "Do the manual labor and, in return, have an improved practice space."
They began to roll out the mats last Tuesday, and while waiting for them to fully settle into shape, the team practiced in Woollen Gym's combat room during their final week of preseason — a displacement that is familiar to them.
"It was easy to work around," associate head coach Tony Ramos said. "When you are coming off of COVID, where we were out of our facilities for basically a whole year, it's easy for a week and a half."
Along with the new mats, the Tar Heels' personal wrestling weight room will also be getting an upgrade. The team was previously working with a makeshift area consisting of old weight racks and weights. Now, the team will be getting a custom space with new equipment, thanks to a donation from former UNC heavyweight Spencer Nandolsky, who wrestled at UNC from 2004 to 2006.
New floors will be going on Oct. 20, and the latest equipment will follow.
The coaching staff is looking for these new upgrades to not only help with this season's success but also boost the team's morale.
In addition to the upgraded mats resolving safety and practice issues, they also have circles on them, allowing the team to do more drills that the old ones hadn't permitted. The room was also rearranged into an "L" shape, which will allow the team to maximize mat space usage during practices.
Scott and Ramos also both acknowledged the role the new room will play in recruiting. The new equipment and improved training area will show current and future recruits that the program is constantly pushing forward and looking to improve.
"When people walk in, and they see new things and see that people are investing in the program, it changes the way they look at it," Ramos said.
As the team is preparing for the upcoming season, which begins Nov. 5 at the Southeast Open in Roanoke, Va., Scott said that the new room serves as a reward for the team due to its hard work.
"It's a breath of fresh air," Scott said. "It shows the guys that everyone above us cares."
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