There are only three wrestling teams without a league loss in the Southern Conference, and two of them meet this afternoon when Southern Illinois-Edwardsville hosts the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
The Mocs, who entered the national polls last week at No. 23, will be the second straight ranked opponent for the Cougars, who lost 40-0 to No. 7 Missouri on Jan. 11.
The only other SoCon unbeaten is Campbell University with wins over Appalachian State and VMI.
Six of the 10 Southern Illinois matches in the shutout loss to Missouri were decided by five points or less. The task for the Cougars (3-9, 1-0) today should be no less daunting, and they're expected to field the same lineup.
"Going up against the best team in the conference, we want to make a statement," SIUE coach Jeremy Spates said.
Easier said than done?
UTC is on a three-match win streak and coming off a fifth-place finish in the Virginia Duals. The Mocs are 10-5 following the 4-1 showing at Hampton, Va., and 1-0 in the conference (35-3 over Gardner-Webb).
If the Mocs are getting any lofty thoughts, though, coach Heath Eslinger just has to remind them what happened a year ago this weekend. They bounced into Cleveland State as the favorites and left with a 21-17 loss, the fourth in a skid that began with a 41-9 loss to Oklahoma State and stretched over three weeks.
"This is a tough stretch for us, and we're fortunate to have had things go our way," Eslinger said.
The Mocs haven't wrestled a home dual meet since the Dec. 16 victory over Gardner-Webb, and they won't wrestle again at home until Feb. 2 against Appalachian State.
"We'd like to have a couple of weeks where everybody is healthy, but one of the things we preach is that no high should be too high and no low should be too low," Eslinger said. "We may have a guy out, but we have others who have proved they can step in and do the job."
That task today falls to 141-pound Austin Sams, who is stepping in for Shawn Greevy (sprained MCL at Virginia Duals). He'll be joining freshman heavyweight Dawson Peck, who is 5-0 after stepping in for Kevin Malone (broken leg; torn MCL, ACL, PCL).
The rest of the Mocs' lineup should be Campbell Lewis or Byron Smith at 125, 11th-ranked Nick Soto (133), Michael Pongracz (149), Alex Hudson (157), fourth-ranked Corey Mock (165), Levi Clemons (174), Jon Lampe (184) and Scottie Boykin (197).
Three of the Mocs already have surpassed the 20-win plateau: Soto (25-7), Hudson (21-5) and Mock (22-1).
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.
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 ...