published Monday, March 7th, 2011

Mat Mocs begin preparing for NCAA tournament

Cody Cleveland and Jason McCroskey are ready to begin preparations for their third NCAA wrestling tournament trips. Bucky Johnson is going back for the second time. University of Tennessee at Chattanooga teammates Josh Condon and Brandon Wright will be making their initial showings.

Fresh from a Southern Conference tournament victory Saturday evening in Boone, N.C., the quintet and Mocs coaches Heath Eslinger, Rocco Mansueto, Josh Lambrecht and Mike Hatcher are hopeful that their NCAA contingent will grow by two and maybe three before the clock strikes midnight tonight.

There is a good chance that Niko Brown, Prescott Garner and Dean Pavlou will be added to the field by a NCAA coaches tournament selection committee at its meeting today.

Regardless, all of the Mocs — winners, runners-up and reserves — will practice today despite the presence at McKenzie Arena of the Southern Conference basketball tournament.

“The ultimate goal for each of our wrestlers is to be an All-American so we’ll train through that time,” Eslinger said. “Too, we started as a team and we’ll finish as a team.”

This year already is much more enjoyable for the team, which couldn’t erase the stain of last year’s fourth-place finish but which eased that hurt immensely by putting 10 in the SoCon medals and eight in the finals on the way to wrestling the team title from defending champion UNC Greensboro.

Hoping to capitalize on that showing and a stringent regular season are Garner, Pavlou and Brown, and Eslinger spent part of Sunday preparing their cases to present to the selection group.

“We just want to make sure the committee has all the facts,” he said.

It begins with Brown’s 20-9 record. Six of his losses came to the wrestlers already qualified for the tournament plus a win over one of those.

“He has a really good shot, just like Garner,” Eslinger said. “Seven of Prescott’s losses have been to guys ranked in the top 15 and he also has a win over the ACC champion.”

Garner lost by major decision in the SoCon finals but that shouldn’t hurt his chances according to Eslinger, who said the group looks more at wins and losses and opponents.

Pavlou, a 2010 SoCon champion and NCAA tournament attendee, is probably the longest of the longshot Mocs.

“He has a chance,” Eslinger said. “He has wrestled really well since Christmas — only one loss — and that one loss was to a ranked guy by two points in a conference championship match.”

about Ward Gossett...

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 ...

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