published Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Dean Pavlou back in UTC lineup for SoCon

SoCon Wrestling

Where: UTC's McKenzie Arena

When: Saturday, quarterfinals 10 a.m. (ticket office opens at 8; doors open at 9); championship finals 6:30 p.m.

Cost: All-day tickets $15 for adults, $10 for youths and $8 per person for groups of 10 or more; students from any conference school with a valid ID will be admitted free.

Teams: Appalachian State, Campbell, The Citadel, UTC, Davidson, Gardner-Webb and VMI.


SoCon leaders

Pins: 13--Odie Delaney (Citadel, 285); 11--Tony Gravely (Appalachian, 125); 8--Chip Powell (Appalachian, 157), John Weakley (Campbell, 197); 7--Savva Kostis (Appalachian, 149), Richard Alacron (Citadel, 125); 6--Kevin Birmingham (Davidson, 149), Josh Tuck (Citadel, 184).

Technical falls: 5--Kyle Blevins (Appalachian, 165); 3--Austin Trotman (Appalachian, 184), Mark Hartenstine (Campbell, 149).

Major decisions: 10--Savva Kostis (Appalachian, 149); 8--Austin Trotman (Appalachian, 184), Kyle Blevins (Appalachian, 165), Shawn Greevy (UTC, 141), Mark Hartenstine (Campbell, 149); 7--Nick Soto (UTC, 133); 6--Nick Rex (Campbell, 157); 5--Nick Rizzolino (Campbell, 133), Turtogtokh Luvsandorj (Citadel, 174).

When he steps on the mat Saturday, Dean Pavlou will have thought about the year's training and the trials.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestler, a redshirt junior and former Southern Conference champion, spent the season behind senior Kelly Felix, who wrested the Mocs' 149-pound slot from him.

Felix, though, learned Monday that the coaching staff had decided on Pavlou for the postseason.

"We had a great problem," head coach Heath Eslinger said. "We had two guys that I firmly believe could win the conference tournament and who have done everything we've asked day in and day out. It's uncommon to have that because we live in a society where if it's not about you then you turn your back on people or go another direction, and neither of those guys did that."

Eslinger and his assistants agonized throughout the season.

"That's when coaching gets tough," Eslinger said of the decision he postponed as long as he could. "There were two deserving guys, but you have to go on the facts and the statistics, and at this point we decided that Dean was the guy. You hurt for Kelly, but I think he understands and he knows what we're trying to accomplish as a program. I think he supports us as a staff even though that decision negatively affected him."

Felix wrestled all of the Mocs' conference matches, going 4-2 and finishing with a 14-10 record. Pavlou had a 16-10 record and placed sixth in the Southern Scuffle.

Felix said he went blank when he and Pavlou were informed of the decision in Eslinger's office Monday morning.

"I was stunned, but I also still had the sense that the decision was made based on performances," he said. "When you look at statistics, it was the right decision. It was probably the toughest decision Coach has made in his career, and I hate that he had to deal with it right before the conference tournament.

"In my eyes I fell short of the goal that was to be accomplished this year. However, it sets a great example for the other guys. It's hard to deal with, but it shows the guys that [Eslinger] is making the best decisions for the team."

While he is still swallowing a bitter pill, Felix worked at adapting a positive approach about his UTC career.

"I will look back knowing I helped this program progress, that a lot of things I have done have inspired a lot of the younger guys," he said. "I feel like I set a good example. I have good thoughts. I wish there could have been a clear-cut decision. It came down to the last day before they had to turn in the tournament roster, and the decision couldn't have been harder."

He didn't welcome the decision but neither did he begrudge Pavlou, who pushed himself and nipped at Felix's heels all season.

"This year has been very challenging." Pavlou said. "I could have sandbagged practice, but at the end of the day nobody would have gotten any better. I realized I still had a chance if I did everything right, whether it was this year or next. I wanted to make it easy for [Eslinger] to say I was the starter, but Kelly's tough and I do want to thank [Kelly]. If I hadn't been chasing him all season I might not have this opportunity. He forced me to work my tail off and perform in all aspects that come with being a wrestler at UTC.

"Kelly is a friend, and I'm sure we'll still be hanging out in 15-20 years."

Pavlou thanked Felix in the Monday meeting for the competition.

Felix had one class this semester and it was an evening class, yet he came in at 6:45 many mornings to accommodate a daily multiple-workout schedule with Pavlou and Pavlou's class schedule.

"Without him I wouldn't have gotten the same from this year without him driving me to catch him," Pavlou said. "I feel for him. When we heard the decision it was an emotional moment. I realized that his wrestling career was over. He's a great guy and he has done all the right things. He has always been the ultimate teammate, and I want to show him that the decision was best for the team."

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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