The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga had seven of its 10 wrestlers seeded to tonight’s Southern Conference championship finals in Boone, N.C.
The Mocs’ Cody Cleveland, Josh Condon and Brandon Wright were accorded No. 1 seeds, and Bucky Johnson, Dean Pavlou, Jason McCroskey and Niko Brown also are expected to wrestle for championships.
While it looks like a leisurely stroll through the SoCon park, the Mocs are very mindful of last year’s collapse when they tumbled from favorites to fourth. When he paused earlier this week to reflect on the debacle in his first tournament as UTC’s coach, Heath Eslinger, as always, sought the positive.
“I think last year that we overachieved in the conference regular season,” he said. “It’s like Niko, who was seeded No. 1 last year. He won all of his conference matches but several of those by just one point.”
UTC left two starters at home last year, each suspended the week of the conference tournament for violation of Eslinger’s training philosophies and the program’s conduct code. While he and his staff had no idea of the short-term impact of those suspensions or the absence of Cleveland because of a knee injury, they were virtually helpless when the Mocs fell apart.
“I don’t think we’ll have any collapses this year,” said Brown, who finished a disappointing fourth a year ago.
“This tournament is similar to last year going in, where we’re looked at as the top dog,” Mocs assistant Josh Lambrecht said. “We had some outside factors that contributed [to the setback] last year, but it’s ours to lose and I think we have last year on our minds.”
Those thoughts of last year have fueled the Mocs, and Eslinger believes his team is elated that its time of redemption is here.
Mocs’ SoCon seeds
No. 1—Senior Cody Cleveland (141), sophomore Josh Condon (157), junior Brandon Wright (174)
No. 2—Junior Bucky Johnson (133), sophomore Dean Pavlou (149), senior Jason McCroskey (184), sophomore Niko Brown (197)
No. 3—Sophomore Prescott Garner (125), junior Dan Waddell (165)
No. 6—Senior Matt Lettner (285)
“We are ready. I want to have fun and I want our guys to have fun this weekend,” he said. “This is one of the greatest groups of individuals of which I have been a part. They have done what we asked.
“This is the second-most important week of the year.”
The most important is the NCAA tournament in Philadelphia in a couple of weeks, and each weight-class winner at Boone is guaranteed of being there.
“We have been measuring things all season and not putting stock in one day,” Eslinger said, “but we have a group of individuals who believe in what Chattanooga wrestling is all about and that means Saturday will take care of itself. I probably have more confidence in these guys than any group I have coached.”
Brown believes the Mocs will succeed.
“We’re ready mentally and physically,” he said. “We want to win it as individuals and as a team and then see what we can do at the national tournament.”
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 ...