A fruitful Saturday set up a possible championship celebration tonight for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling team.
The Mocs blasted VMI and SIU-Edwardsville on Saturday, losing only one decision in each meet, and can take full possession of the Southern Conference championship by beating Campbell (7-9, 5-1) at 7 tonight in Maclellan Gymnasium.
"We're getting close to things that matter. I think the guys are excited," UTC coach Heath Eslinger said even before his Mocs impressively climbed to 6-0 in the conference (10-6 overall) with Saturday's 36-3 and 40-3 victories. That gave them at least a share of the program's 27th SoCon title.
Campbell has been a surprise in conference competition, rebounding from a 3-3 inaugural season with losses to UTC, The Citadel and Appalachian State. The Fighting Camels' 5-1 record this year includes a 25-13 win at The Citadel, which in preseason voting was one of the league favorites.
That meet started at 184 pounds and Campbell opened with two pins for a lead the Bulldogs were unable to surmount. The Camels' conference loss was 16-15 at Appalachian State. They have won their last four SoCon meets.
"So much is about matchups," Eslinger said.
One of tonight's top matchups is at 125 pounds with UTC's Nick Soto wrestling Eric Montoyo. Both have been in the national rankings. Soto is currently No. 17, while freshman Montoyo is listed among the top 32 in the NCAA tournament ratings.
Montoya leads his team with a 28-11 record including 5-0 in the conference. Soto is 23-6 and also unbeaten in the SoCon.
"Coach [Joe] Boardwine has done a great job and he has talented kids," Eslinger said. "He has brought some energy and excitement to that program, which is great for wrestling. We need that."
Eslinger has re-energized the program at UTC. He has a record of 44-28, and Saturday vaulted him past Mark Leen for fourth place in program wins behind Jim Morgan, Andy Nardo and Ethan Reeve.
"Any time the final few days determine the conference champion, there is energy," Eslinger said late last week. "We need to make sure we come out and initiate that energy."
The Mocs did that Saturday. They'll try again tonight.
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 ...