Even without two wrestlers ranked in the top 10, defending national champion Penn State flexed its muscles and ended New Year's Day atop the top-heavy Southern Scuffle wrestling tournament.
"We're seeing a lot of good things, a lot of positives that we can continue to build on," PSU coach Cael Sanderson said. "Tomorrow is a big day, obviously, with the semis and we want our guys to finish strong, which you need to be able to do late in a tournament. I'll be excited to see how our guys come back tomorrow."
He'll have six wrestlers in today's semifinals, which begin at 11 a.m., including reserve 157-pound James Vollrath, who stepped in when fifth-ranked teammate Dylan Alton was suspended by Sanders for violation of team rules. Also suspended was 149-pound Andrew Alton; his replacement, James English, made it to the quarterfinals before losing to top-seeded Jordan Oliver of Oklahoma State.
The Nittany Lions, who won this tournament last year as well, were ahead of fellow Top 10 members Minnesota, Oklahoma State, Cornell and Missouri. PSU had 102 points, eight better than the second-place Golden Gophers. Oklahoma State had 89.5 points, Cornell 84.5 and Missouri 75. Sixth-place Virginia was the only other team to break 70, doing so by a half-point.
Host University of Tennessee at Chattanooga was in 13th place, a half-point behind fellow Southern Conference member The Citadel.
Joining Vollrath in the semifinals for Penn State are Nichk Magaludis (125), David Taylor (165), Matthew Brown (174), Ed Ruth (184) and Quentin Wright (197).
UTC, which had a finalist in the Scuffle's first year here, won't be so fortunate this year.
Nick Soto, the Mocs' 133-pound finalist in 2012, is one of four UTC wrestlers still alive and a win away from reaching the medals stand. Wrestling this year at 125 pounds, he lost his second match in overtime to Old Dominion's Rob Deutsch in the round of 16 but rebounded with two consolation wins to gain a 3-1 tournament record.
Only two Mocs made it to the championship quarterfinals — Dean Pavlou (141) and Niko Brown (197) — and both lost but remain alive in the consolations. Also still alive is heavyweight Kevin Malone.
"I have seen some frustrating things that we need to work on as a team," Mocs coach Heath Eslinger said. "And if it seems to be a team problem, then I have to ask myself some questions. Today definitely exposed a lot of things at which we need to get better."
Eslinger seemed especially frustrated by the number of riding-time points the Mocs gave up because of an inability to escape or gain reversals.
"We have to get off the bottom," he said. "When the whole team is not getting out, I take the blame. One guy? Maybe it's effort. But all of them — then there's something we have to work on."
Consolation wrestling begins at 9 a.m. with the semifinals and consolation quarterfinals at 11 a.m. The consolation semifinals are at 1 and the medal-round matches at 6.
Attendance was a first-day tournament record of 2,543.
"I like records but I like seeing [our] guys on the podium a lot better," Eslinger said. "There are two sets of ways I have to look at [the 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 ...