Pins and needles: UNC wrestling midseason check-in

Pins and needles: UNC wrestling midseason check-in

As it sits currently, the UNC wrestling squad is at a place of uncertainty. Head coach Coleman Scott set a high bar for the team before the season began, and hitting those marks has been difficult.

“It’s going to be a tough road schedule,” Scott told Argyle Report in October, “but I think to be ready for March, we need to be tested throughout the year.”

The team has certainly been tested, having already gone against six teams that are currently ranked and losing four of those meets, including two losses to ranked opponents Purdue and Oklahoma State to start the season. In the past week, the No. 24 Tar Heels (6-7) have lost three of four meets, including a 27-9 home loss to No. 10 Arizona State on Saturday.

This doesn’t mean it’s been a completely downhill battle, though. In fact, the Tar Heels have made some impressive strides as the season has come along, including a stretch where they won five of seven meets. That included a 26-15 win over eighth-ranked Minnesota, the first top-10 win for the young Carolina coach.

The team has made individual strides, as well, with five team members finding themselves on the national top 20 of their weight classes throughout the season. Zach Sherman, Troy Heilmann, Ethan Ramos and Danny Chaid are currently ranked by InterMat, with Chip Ness also spending multiple weeks in the rankings before dropping spots this week (despite winning his last six matches).

 Danny Chaid (left) was instrumental in UNC's biggest win over then-No. 8 Minnesota.

Danny Chaid (left) was instrumental in UNC's biggest win over then-No. 8 Minnesota.

The most notable names on that list have been Heilmann and Chaid. Heilmann sits at fifth in his weight class, has beaten multiple ranked opponents and currently holds a 20-3 record this season. He has been a clear leader for this team’s potential success, earning ACC Co-Wrestler of the Week honors for his two wins in two days against top-10 opponents.

Chaid, on the other hand, fell out of the rankings early in the season but has worked his way back into the 17th spot after defeating the second-ranked wrestler in his weight class from Missouri and winning multiple matches in a row. He currently stands at a 14-6 record on the season.

This individual success has not spread across the board, though, with redshirt freshman Kennedy Monday holding an 11-11 record and true freshman Clay Lautt sitting at 2-12. Also, senior standout Ethan Ramos, who started the season by winning seven of his first nine matches, has been out of competition for over a month due to an injury suffered in the Cliff Keen Invitational on Dec. 2.

The team’s remaining schedule is going to be a tough one, and for its potential to be reached, UNC will need a couple of its young guys to step up and Ramos to come back from injury in the near future. The Tar Heels’ final seven meets of the regular season feature No. 17 Rutgers, No. 9 Virginia Tech, No. 5 N.C. State and No. 13 Cornell.

Lofty expectations have had Carolina wrestling walking on pins and needles, but the team could be looking at more than a handful of national tournament berths with a couple of ranked conference wins and continued senior leadership. Scott’s prediction of his seniors sweeping the All-American honors isn’t out of the way, either — it’s just going to take some work.

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Photos courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications (Jeff Camarati)