When Austin O’Connor decided to come back to UNC for a sixth year, there were several reasons why the four-time All-America wrestler wasn’t ready to hang up his singlet.
First, there were the three losses last year — the most individual defeats for O’Connor since his sophomore season. O’Connor also fell short in the ACC title bout and earned a disappointing eighth-place finish in the NCAA championship.
When O’Connor was ranked seventh in the 157-pound class over the offseason, he took it personally. On the wall next to the mat he practiced on over the summer stood a list of the six names slotted ahead of him.
Despite North Carolina falling in its regular-season finale to N.C. State 28-6 on Friday night, O’Connor continued his perfect season.
“I definitely wanted to prove a point by coming back,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been kind of the underdog going into almost every season.”
Before O’Connor’s fiery play could take hold on center mat in Carmichael Arena, the Wolfpack came out and asserted their dominance. Sophomore Ryan Jack tailed three takedowns in the opening dual and first-year Jackson Arrington’s last-minute near fall propelled N.C. State to an early six-point lead.
But as the Wolfpack started to find their groove, UNC’s 2021 NCAA champion entered the fold.
O’Connor matched up against sophomore Ed Scott, last year’s 157-pound ACC champion. In a grueling battle, O’Connor secured the lone takedown in the second period en route to earning North Carolina’s first decision win.
As he rose up victorious from the mat, the sixth-year wrestler looked into the nearby N.C. State section, holding up a Wolfpack hand sign before symbolically slicing it with his left hand.