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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC wrestling rattled in tough N.C. State road environment

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Redshirt sophomore, 157 lbs, Sonny Santiago wrestles against N.C. State on Friday, February 2, 2024 at the William Neal Reynolds Coliseum. UNC fell to NC State 33-6.

RALEIGH — LeBron James’ signature “silencer” celebration. Damian Lillard’s “goodbye” wave after a big win.

Although the Wolfpack's celebrations — along with the streams of fire and the sold-out crowd of over 5,000 spectators — may resemble a major basketball game, this is just any home dual meet for N.C. State wrestling, who trounced UNC 33-6 on Friday night. 

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NC State wrestler Ed Scott is introduced at the match between UNC and NC State on Friday, February 2, 2024 at William Neal Reynolds Coliseum. UNC fell to NC State 33-6.

Despite UNC (8-7, 0-2 ACC) dramatically claiming two of the first three matches of the evening in sudden victory, the No. 8 Wolfpack squad (12-2, 2-0 ACC) responded with even more style to complete a 29-0 run through the remaining seven matches. 

UNC had not yet wrestled in an environment like N.C. State this season and the lights in Reynolds Coliseum proved to be too bright for North Carolina as the Wolfpack extended its winning streak to 11 straight over the Tar Heels. 

“It’s sold out, and 99 percent of them are wearing red and screaming at you,” UNC head coach Rob Koll said. "And you get accosted as you're walking in and out of the gym."

Redshirt sophomore Sonny Santiago opened up play for UNC at 157 pounds. The unranked Tar Heel was the first on the board with a takedown, generating a faint “Here we go Tar Heels” chant from the handful of fans in Carolina Blue. But almost immediately after, an echoing “Wolfpack” call-and-response chant soon took over the building as his sixth-ranked opponent, Ed Scott, earned a takedown of his own.

Two escapes for each wrestler pushed the match into sudden victory, which Santiago claimed in an 8-5 decision to put UNC up 3-0

“I’ve always hated them,” Santiago said. “Their energy kind of made me get more motivated because I never wanted to give them the satisfaction.”

Only two matches later, graduate Tyler Eischens earned an overtime victory of his own. The decision was his second ranked win of the season, with the first coming in the previous dual against Navy

Eischens, a transfer from Stanford, had prepared for how to remain composed in pressured situations. He often paces and focuses on breathing before his matches to conserve energy before ultimately taking on the emotions of the crowd during his own contest.

“I love it,” Eischens said. “I act like they’re cheering for me.”

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Graduate, 174 lbs, Tyler Eischens celebrates a win against NC State on Friday, February 2, 2024 at William Neal Reynolds Coliseum. UNC fell to NC State 33-6.

Santiago and Eischens were able to turn the crowd’s noise into a catalyst for success, but the rest of the Tar Heels seemed to succumb to the road environment. It’s easy to be shocked by the atmosphere, however, when an opposing wrestler curses you out while walking off the mat or sticks his tongue out after being declared a winner.

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NC State wrestler Kai Orine celebrates winning a round at the match between UNC and NC State on Friday, February 2, 2024 at William Neal Reynolds Coliseum. UNC fell to NC State 33-6.

But after the 105th all-time meeting on Friday, N.C. State currently holds a 52-51-2 advantage over North Carolina. And according to Koll, the slight edge the Wolfpack now boasts only adds fuel to the fire for UNC to improve for next year.

“They’ve got 365 days to celebrate and we’ve got 364 to get ready,” Koll said. “And we will.”

@meganosmithh

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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