North Carolina staff (left) and Ohio State staff (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Sunday afternoon at 1pm, must-watch TV. No! Not the NFL, it's the first week of the college wrestling season and our Dual of the Week takes place. It's a top-15 tilt as the #14 North Carolina Tar Heels travel to take on the #8 Ohio State Buckeyes.
It will be almost a decade to the day since the last meeting between these two squads in dual meet competition. The last time these teams faced each other was at the Wrestle for a Cure Duals in Hershey, Pennsylvania, in mid-November of 2011. The highlight of that dual was a wild bout between two true freshmen, Evan Henderson and Hunter Stieber. Henderson pinned the more highly regarded Stieber and cemented himself as a top-contender going forward.
This edition of Ohio State/North Carolina sees both teams with multiple returning All-Americans, Ohio State with three and North Carolina with two. There is one bout where returning AAs are expected to clash.
As will be the case with all of our Dual's of the Week, I will predict a winner at all ten weights, along with our conference correspondent(s) for the leagues involved. This week, we have Robbie Wendell (ACC) and Cody Goodwin (Big Ten) joining us.
Spencer Moore (North Carolina) vs. #15 Malik Heinselman (Ohio State)
A 19-8 major decision over Jeremiah Derby at UNC's Blue and White match helped put true freshman Spencer Moore in the driver's seat to start for the Tar Heels at 125 lbs. Moore added to his case with a 2-0 start on Monday. The Kentucky native edged NAIA national runner-up Brandon Orum (Life) in his collegiate debut, before pouring it on against two-time DII qualifier Melvin Rubio (Queens, 12-3 in the nightcap.
We'll get to see right where Moore belongs in the national picture with a worthy measuring stick in #15 Malik Heinselman. In his three previous seasons with the Buckeyes, Heinselman has amassed a 53-31 career record, while qualifying for nationals each year. In 2021, Heinselman showed a level of consistency that he did not always have in his first two seasons. After placing ninth and seventh at the Big Ten Championships, Heinselman was fourth and earned the #10 seed at the NCAA Championships.
Over the course of his career, Heinselman has never earned bonus points in more than 20% of his bouts, so I'd expect a decision here for the Buckeye.
Earl's Prediction: Heinselman by decision (3-0 Ohio State)
Cody's Prediction: Heinselman by decision (3-0 Ohio State)
Robbie's Prediction: Moore by decision (3-0 UNC)
#13 Jaime Hernandez (North Carolina) vs. Andre Gonzales (Ohio State)
The Tar Heels have two good options at 133 lbs with Jaime Hernandez and Joe Heilmann. The two squared off at the Blue and White match and it was Hernandez who prevailed, 6-2. Last year, Hernandez only saw action in two duals, going 2-1. In the 2019-20 campaign, he went 16-10, made the ACC finals and clinched the #23 seed at nationals. Hernandez got the nod in UNC's dual with NAIA power, Life, and responded with a 13-5 major decision.
It's sort of a shocker to see Andre Gonzales at 133 lbs, as he seemed to be a guy that would handle duties at 125 lbs for a few years in high school. Gonzales was a 2020 California state champion at 106 lbs and was ranked highly during his senior year at 113 lbs. Prior to the 2019-20 campaign, Gonzales was a double national champion at the Junior age group in Fargo. Gonzales has already shown he is capable at this weight class by majoring Alex Flerlage in a preliminary wrestle-off and edging veteran Dylan Koontz, 3-2 in the finals. Getting by someone with Koontz's experience may have been unexpected for a true freshman adding weight as Gonzales did.
Earl's Prediction: Hernadez by decision (3-3 tie)
Cody's Prediction: Hernadez by decision (3-3 tie)
Robbie's Prediction: Hernadez by decision (6-0 UNC)
#14 Kizhan Clarke (North Carolina) vs. Jordan Decatur (Ohio State)
One of the more notable names in the transfer portal last offseason was Kizhan Clarke. A graduate student who previously competed for American University, Clarke had a breakout campaign during the 2019-20 season. He went 37-7 and finished fifth at the Midlands and fourth at the EIWA Championships. Last year, Clarke and his AU teammates had their seasons seriously disrupted due to Covid and he did not compete officially. All of Clarke's previous accolades came at 149 lbs, but since arriving in Chapel Hill, Clarke has made the commitment to move down to 141. He is one of the unknowns at the weight, given his time away from competition and his lack of results at 141.
All signs point to Jordan Decatur getting the nod at 141 lbs for the Buckeyes, at least in the earlygoing. Decatur emerged victorious in a wrestle-off series that included 2021 national qualifier Dylan D'Emilio and super-recruit Anthony Echemendia. Decatur downed Echemendia 7-3 before prevailing in sudden victory against D'Emilio. Decatur has been the Buckeyes entrant at 133 lbs in the Big Ten Championships in each of the past two years. Maybe up at 141 lbs, he'll be able to show some of the skills that made him one of the top recruits in the Class of 2019. While in high school, Decatur won Fargo on three occasions and made the 2018 Cadet World Team.
Earl's Prediction: Clarke by decision (6-3 UNC)
Cody's Prediction: Decatur by decision (6-3 Ohio State)
Robbie's Prediction: Clarke by decision (9-0 UNC)
#5 Zach Sherman (North Carolina) vs. #1 Sammy Sasso (Ohio State)
This is shaping up to be the premier bout of the dual meet, a clash between two returning All-Americans ranked in the top-five nationally. Zach Sherman is coming up to 149 lbs after placing seventh in the nation at 141. Sherman clinched All-American honors last year after gutting out a win in tiebreakers over past AA, Dom Demas (Oklahoma). He has made the finals of the previous two ACC Tournament's and captured the title in 2020. In the earlygoing, Sherman has looked fine at the new weight class after a major decision and a tech fall on Monday.
2021 NCAA runner-up Sammy Sasso comes in ranked number one in the land and is the heart and soul of this Ohio State team. Sasso's loss in the NCAA finals came at the hands of Tar Heel star Austin O'Connor, who has since moved up to 157 lbs. That was Sasso's only loss of the year and brought his career mark to 40-4. A quarter of those 40 wins have come back fall, as Sasso is very dangerous with cradles and in scramble situations. Of course, with an opponent like Sherman, it's hard to forecast a fall. However, if this is one of the deciding bouts in a close dual, don't rule it out from a primetime player like Sasso.
Earl's Prediction: Sasso by decision (6-6 Tie)
Cody's Prediction: Sasso by major decision (10-3 Ohio State)
Robbie's Prediction: Sasso by decision (9-3 UNC)
#1 Austin O'Connor (North Carolina) vs. Jashon Hubbard (Ohio State)
The aforementioned O'Connor is another UNC star that is shifting weights for the 2021-22 season. Early returns are good as O'Connor logged a fall and major decision in his 157 lb debut on Monday. Those wins brought O'Connor's current winning streak up to 29 matches. His last loss came in the Midlands finals in December of 2019. The NCAA title for O'Connor gave UNC its first since TJ Jaworsky in 1993-95. Now O'Connor is looking to repeat and join Jaworsky as a multiple-time champion in Chapel Hill.
There are plenty of options at 157 for Ohio State, but it looks like Jashon Hubbard may get the first crack at solidifying the weight for the Buckeyes. Hubbard posted a 16-10 record in 2018-19 as a true freshman competing for DII Notre Dame. After that season, he transferred to Ohio State and used a redshirt. Hubbard only saw action in three bouts, but one of them was a win over Cameron Amine (Michigan), who was also competing unattached. Some long-term possibilities for the Buckeyes at this weight include Kevon Freeman, Isaac Wilcox, and Bryce Hepner, along with the top recruit in the Class of 2021, Paddy Gallagher. The first three are competing at the Michigan State Open, while the Buckeye staff initially intends on redshirting Gallagher.
Earl's Prediction: O'Connor by major decision (10-6 UNC)
Cody's Prediction: O'Connor by tech fall (10-8 Ohio State)
Robbie's Prediction: O'Connor by tech fall (14-3 UNC)
Sonny Santiago (North Carolina) vs. #10 Carson Kharchla (Ohio State)
A pair of talented freshmen are set to square off at 165 lbs. Sonny Santiago was a three-time California state placewinner and 2019 champion for powerhouse St. John Bosco. Santiago saw action in five matches last year at 157 lbs, winning four. His only loss came via injury default. One of those wins came in dual meet competition versus ACC rival Duke. There Santiago needed extra time to dispatch Brandon LaRue, 6-4. On Monday, Santiago notched a win over Life's Ashton Habiel, 5-3.
Across the mat from Santiago will be Carson Kharchla, who will be making his highly-anticipated Buckeye debut. One of the top recruits in the Class of 2019, Kharchla turned in a blazing 16-0 record during his redshirt season. Poised for a massive 2021, Kharchla suffered an injury that kept him out of collegiate competition. He returned for the freestyle RTC Cup and earned a win over 2019 NCAA champion Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech) and Canadian standout Jevon Balfour. Kharchla's number-ten ranking is a bit conservative and he is expected to be a key NCAA title contender this season.
Earl's Prediction: Kharchla by major decision (10-10 Tie)
Cody's Prediction: Kharchla by major decision (14-8 Ohio State)
Robbie's Prediction: Kharchla by major decision (14-7 UNC)
#22 Gavin Kane (North Carolina) vs. #6 Ethan Smith (Ohio State)
One of the most notable positional battles seen in the preseason took place for UNC at 174 lbs. Freshman Gavin Kane took out 2020 ACC champion and two-time conference finalist Clay Lautt, 6-3. Kane got five matches of experience last year during his first year with the UNC program. He went 4-1, with the only loss coming to NC State's Alex Faison. In both of his 2021 dual appearances, Kane was able to amass bonus points. He got the call in North Carolina's opener against Life University and produced an 8-3 win over Asher Eichert.
2021 NCAA semifinalist and fifth-place finisher Ethan Smith will prove to be an imposing test for the young Kane. The three-time national qualifier, Smith, got onto the NCAA podium for the first time last season, while competing at 165 lbs. Smith also made his first Big Ten final, after posting fourth and sixth-place finishes in the preceding years. Heading into his fourth year in the Buckeye starting lineup, Smith has a career record of 54-24. Though Smith is generally consistent for Tom Ryan's team, he doesn't get a whole lot of bonus points, so expect a one-sided decision for the Buckeye veteran.
Earl's Prediction: Smith by decision (13-10 Ohio State)
Cody's Prediction: Smith by decision (17-8 Ohio State)
Robbie's Prediction: Smith by decision (14-10 UNC)
Mark Chaid (North Carolina) vs. #17 (197) Rocky Jordan (Ohio State)
Eventually, once North Carolina sorts out the 174 lb class, we could see the odd-man-out, bump up to 184 lbs. For now, we'll probably see Mark Chaid get the call again on Sunday. Chaid made his dual debut on Monday, earning a pair of wins, both coming via shutout. Last year, Chaid went 0-4 while competing at 197 lbs. The previous year he was at 285. We'll see what he can do with extended time in the lineup at a more manageable weight class.
At some point, Ohio State will have to do some sorting out of their own at 184 between Kaleb Romero and Rocky Jordan. For now, Jordan is the guy. Jordan had a rough regular season and Big Ten Tournament in 2021. He entered nationals with a 5-8 record and needed an at-large berth to travel to St. Louis. But, Jordan made the most of his trip and wrestled to a match away from All-American status, despite starting at the 24th seed. At the tournament, Jordan picked up wins over Max Lyon (Purdue) and Charles Small (Hofstra), both of whom were seeded higher than him. Jordan had split matches with Lyon earlier in the season.
Earl's Prediction: Jordan by decision (16-10 Ohio State)
Cody's Prediction: Jordan by decision (20-8 Ohio State)
Robbie's Prediction: Lautt by decision (17-10 UNC)
#23 Max Shaw (North Carolina) vs. Gavin Hoffman (Ohio State)
The only loss for the Tar Heels in their season-opening dual with Life University came at 197 lbs when Zane Lanham shocked Max Shaw with a fall. Shaw was third in the ACC in 2021 and earned the #20 seed at NCAA's. It was his first NCAA appearance and he went 1-2. The Tar Heel 197 lber did not get the call in UNC's second dual Monday against Queens; Hunter Queen ended up getting sent out for that match. There's the possibility we see Queen here, as well. Queen picked up a win, which was his first career in dual competition. He saw action in three duals during the 2018-19 season and fell in all three.
Could this be the breakout year for three-time Pennsylvania state champ Gavin Hoffman, one of the top recruits in the nation in the Class of 2018? Hoffman redshirted and went 25-3 at 184 lbs during his first year in Columbus. In 2019-20, Hoffman couldn't lock down the starting role at 184 and bounced between that weight and 285, while primarily competing unattached. Last year he moved up to 197 and went 5-7 overall, including a 1-2 showing at the Big Ten Championships. Hoffman solidified his starting position with a tech fall over Tyler Stein in Ohio State's wrestle-offs.
Earl's Prediction: Hoffman by decision (19-10 Ohio State)
Cody's Prediction: Hoffman by decision (23-8 Ohio State)
Robbie's Prediction: Hoffman by decision (17-13 UNC)
#33 Brandon Whitman (North Carolina) vs. #7 Tate Orndorff (Ohio State)
There's definitely a chance that this dual is handing in the balance with a pair of ranked big men deciding the outcome. #33 Brandon Whitman was a national qualifier in 2018-19 as a true freshman. Competing in a tough 197 lb weight class that year, Whitman's only dual win was a big one. His upset of eventual NCAA Round of 12 finisher, Tom Sleigh, helped UNC knock off Virginia Tech. Last year, Whitman made the move up to 285 lbs, but was behind national qualifier Andrew Gunning. Whitman got the call Monday and turned in a pair of bonus-point wins.
2021 All-American Tate Orndorff could be the closer for the Buckeyes. Orndorff has been a mainstay among the middle of the heavyweight rankings for the past three seasons with Ohio State (1 year) and Utah Valley (2 years). He entered the 2021 tournament as the 21st seed, but locked up All-American status after wins over #7 Ethan Laird (Rider), #12 Christian Lance (Nebraska), and #13 Brian Andrews (Wyoming). For the year, his record ended up at an even 11-11. His career record is now 55-24.
Earl's Prediction: Orndorff by decision (22-10 Ohio State)
Cody's Prediction: Orndorff by decision (26-8 Ohio State)
Robbie's Prediction: Orndorff by decision (17-16 UNC)
Cody's Take: I like this North Carolina team. They'll be exciting this season and have the potential to grow into a team that scores a lot of points come March. But I think the Buckeyes, right now, have a little bit more firepower, especially in the final five weights. Buckeyes 26-8
Robbie's Take: I think this is going to be a lot closer than people are suspecting, and there are enough toss-up matches that it can go either way. Cody is spot on that this team will continue to gain steam throughout the season as some guys settle into new weights. I think the dual sways based on what UNC does at their upper weights between Lautt, Kane, Chaid and Shaw and how that matches up with the OSU contingent. I'm going full ACC homer here and giving the nod to UNC, but I am expecting a very tight dual at the Covelli Center. Tar Heels 17-16