It is senior day for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling team, but today also is "Pack the Mac" day with the Mocs in effect going for their eighth consecutive Southern Conference championship.
The opponent is Appalachian State (9-3, 3-0), which is seeking its first undefeated SoCon season and league title since 2002-03. That was the year the Mountaineers celebrated their first win over UTC.
Today's meet is expected to be tight. UTC (11-3, 4-0) was picked by a single vote in a preseason poll of coaches to win the conference over Appalachian, but many observers feel ASU might have a slight advantage.
Mountaineers coach JohnMark Bentley was confident enough in his team's chances to organize a fan bus, which sold out by Tuesday morning. Thus the "Pack the Mac" campaign this week by the UTC staff.
The meet is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for students.
"I think it will be a pretty good little match," Mocs coach Heath Eslinger said.
The Mocs have had to plan for contingencies in case 197-pound Niko Brown is unable to wrestle. The junior from Kissimmee, Fla. has been limited in practice after suffering a knee sprain two weeks ago.
"I wish I knew for certain," Eslinger said.
If Brown (16-6, 1-1) is unable to go, UTC is likely to insert freshman Cory Canada, who got his first collegiate action and lost last week.
The Mocs are led by a quartet of seniors beginning with 125-pound Manny Ramirez. The UNC Greensboro transfer wrestled his first match and won last week in overtime, and today will mark the former SoCon champ's first official home appearance for the Mocs.
The other three seniors anchor the middle of the lineup, starting with Kelley Felix at 149 and followed by Dan Waddell at 157 and Brandon Wright at 165 pounds. All three are former Tennessee high school state champions. The other senior, whose season was cut short by a second knee injury, is 125-pound Demetrius Johnson, for whom Ramirez stepped in.
While Waddell and Wright have three UTC letters, Felix didn't step into the starting lineup on a full-time basis until this season.
"Yeah, it was worth the wait," he said. "I have been very happy at UTC. A lot of times it's a matter of waiting your turn."
Felix actually created his opportunity, beating former SoCon champ Dean Pavlou in a series of challenge matches.
Waddell and Wright are among the team leaders in wins, Waddell with 17 and Wright with 16.
The wins leaders are freshman heavyweight Kevin Malone (21-10) and freshman 133-pounder Nick Soto (20-4), who is ranked 13th nationally in the latest individual polls. Soto was the SoCon wrestler of the month for January, when he went 11-1 with a 3-0 league record. He began the calendar year by finishing second in the prestigious Southern Scuffle, where one of his victims was the nation's fifth-ranked 133-pounder.
Appalachian's lineup includes Austin Trotman (184), Tony Gravely (125), Brett Boston (133), Mike Kessler (141), Savva Kostis (149), Chip Powell (157), Kyle Blevins (165), Carter Downs (174), Austin Trotman (184), Paul Weiss (197) and Joe Cummings (285).
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 ...