Eight days ago when Brandon Wright knocked off two-time Southern Conference champion Byron Sigmon of UNC Greensboro, Heath Eslinger wiped
"We were down 15-3 at the time and we needed it, had to have it," the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling coach said.
Wright's win put the Mocs on the comeback trail to an eventual 20-18 win over league favorite UNCG, and the junior was chosen the SoCon wrestler of the week.
UTC (9-9, 3-0) hosts Davidson (5-10, 0-3) today at 2 p.m. at Maclellan Gymnasium. Tickets cost $5 for adults, $3 for students. A win for the Mocs would be their 33rd in a row in SoCon dual meets and give them at least a share of their seventh straight regular-season conference championship.
"We moved Brandon to 174 [from 165 pounds] because we felt he could win the conference at that weight. He's tough as nails," Eslinger said. "He has struggled this year. He made some adjustments and he didn't see immediate results, but he stayed the course."
There were some bonuses to the move including not having to cut weight, but Wright needed time to let the positives outweigh the negatives. He was a wrestler and wrestlers cut weight.
"I'm not a huge fan of cutting a lot of weight," Eslinger said, "because the season is so long and I think a lot of kids cash it in just when they should be peaking. I'm not saying that we won't have kids cutting some weight, especially if cutting some gets them to a weight they need to reach in order to get in the starting lineup."
Wright considers himself a natural 165-pounder but made the move to make the team stronger. Bumping him up allowed Eslinger to separate 157-pounders Josh Condon and Dan Waddell and get another strong performer in the starting 10.
"It helps the team for me to go 174, and it really has turned out to be a good thing," Wright said. "I feel stronger, healthier. I'm not worrying about cutting weight. Dan is a great person, a great guy to represent UTC, and we're a better team with him in the lineup."
The same could be said for Wright being at 174.
"Brandon had to make up his mind he could compete at 174, and he has done that," Eslinger said. "The kid he beat last week is a three-time NCAA qualifier, and that win just proved what Brandon is capable of doing. He is capable of competing with the best guys in the country.
"He ran into some really good kids early, and he lost some tough matches. But he has come to realize that he has to work for the win in every match. In these last few weeks he has worked hard enough to get the win, and he's talented enough that when he does that he's going to win some matches."
Wright has a 3-0 SoCon record and is close to locking up the top seed for the conference tournament. He's especially looking forward to that because he didn't get to take part in the tournament last year. He ran afoul of Eslinger guidelines.
"A lot of people think he did something really bad. He didn't," the coach said. "Most would say it was college kids being college kids. The great part is that he's doing the right things the right way. You discipline kids to help them become better people, and that's what we're seeing in Brandon.
"Hey, he was a great kid when I got here and a fun kid to be around. We have a lot of things in common. I think wrestling had to become a little more of a priority, and Brandon had to realize there are things in your life for which you have to sacrifice in order to be part of something great."
Wright made some realizations and now is making some sacrifices.
"I wrestled better last year than this year, but I had some obstacles I had to get through," he said. "I think, though, that I'm now in a position where I can become an All-American and a national champion, when last year I wasn't necessarily in that position."
(probable UTC wrestler listed first)
125—Prescott Garner (17-11) vs. Matt Zarth (14-14); 133--Demetrious Johnson (1-1) vs. Alex Radsky (23-7); 141--Cody Cleveland (9-0) vs. Vitaly Radsky (17-3); 149—Alex Hudson (2-1) or Dean Pavlou (12-10) vs. Scott Ray (13-12); 157—Josh Condon (19-6) ro Kelly Felix (2-0) vs. TBD; 165—Dan Waddelll (12-10) vs. TBD; 174—Brandon Wright (7-10) vs. Scott Patrick (10-10) or Chris Cirenza (1-6); 184—Jason McCroskey (20-8) vs. Ike Crews (11-15); 197--Niko Brown (16-8) vs. TBD; 285—Matt Lettner (7-11) or Robert Prigmore (7-9) vs. Charlie Wolff (16-8).
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...