published Friday, March 22nd, 2013

UTC wrestlers ready for NCAA tourney challenge

UTC wrestling head coach Heath Eslinger
UTC wrestling head coach Heath Eslinger
Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
MOCS 1ST MATCHES

125 — Nick Soto (21-8) vs. Tyler Cox (Wyoming, 31-8)

141 — Dean Pavlou (25-12) vs. Trevor Melde (Rutgers, 20-12)

149 — Alex Hudson (14-6) vs. No. 5 Steve Santos (Columbia, 26-1)

165 — Josh Condon (20-6) vs. No. 5 Steven Monk (North Dakota State, 33-2)

197 — Niko Brown (28-3) vs. No. 9 Jake Meredith (Arizona State, 26-7)

For the second straight year, four of his five wrestlers are facing seeded competition at the NCAA tournament. However, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach Heath Eslinger wasn't overly concerned as the Mocs headed to Des Moines, Iowa.

"I feel good about where we are in the brackets but also where we are with the five guys that are competing," the Southern Conference coach of the year said.

The tournament begins at noon today and continues through Saturday evening. Wrestlers will have two matches today with the evening session to begin at 7:30.

For their opening matches, UTC's Alex Hudson (149 pounds) and Josh Condon (165) drew No. 5 seeds in Columbia's Steve Santos and North Dakota State's Steven Monk, respectively. Niko Brown (197) has No. 9 Jake Meredith of Arizona State and Nick Soto (125) drew No. 12 Tyler Cox of Wyoming. Dean Pavlou (141) will wrestle Rutgers' Trevor Melde.

"We have five guys that are excited and have a strong belief in what they have done. Each has had solid training this season and they have been very consistent," Eslinger said. "I feel like we have been on an upward climb. The season can be long and draining, but if anything I have seen us getting sharper and sharper."

Only Pavlou and Brown have histories with their first-round opponents. Pavlou won over Melde by forfeit early in the season and then lost by first-round pin to Melde in the team's dual meet at Madison Square Garden. Brown lost 7-5 to Meredith at the Southern Scuffle.

Four of the Mocs have been to previous NCAA tournaments, and this is Pavlou's third trip. Collectively, the quintet has only a 1-10 NCAA record, the lone win coming last season from Soto.

"I like to think that we're a bad draw for the other guys," Eslinger said. "We have five guys who have worked hard for 365 days, and I hope they feel great and reap the rewards."

A true sophomore, Soto is hoping for more positive results this year after going 1-2 in the nationals as a 133-pounder. He has dropped to 125 pounds, producing a 21-8 record including 7-5 against other 125-pounders who are part of Des Moines' 33-man bracket.

"He has been more consistent this year. He had one off weekend, and that was the Scuffle," Eslinger said.

Soto failed to place as a 125-pounder after finishing the 2012 Scuffle as the 133-pound runner-up.

"He wasn't a big 133-pounder, but that's the weight he was at," Eslinger said. "I don't think he got muscled -- he was [ranked] in the top 10 in the country part of the year. I think [at the NCAAs] he ran into guys that were older and more experienced and more physically mature.

"I think he's the right size 125-pounder. These kids have been making weight most of their lives. He can go with anybody in the country, and he believes that. We have to put it together on the right three days."

Soto has been in a zone with a nine-match win streak on his road to the NCAAs.

"He has improved the year I've been here," said former Moc Jon Soiredas, who joined Eslinger's staff after last season. "He is a very motivated individual and he has one of the best work ethics I've seen. He also has had tunnel vision. Recently, the past three or four weeks, every one of his workouts has been phenomenal, even more so than before, and he has always been a very good workout guy."

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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