Heath Eslinger felt frustration and disappointment after the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga fell way short of All-America honors for any of its competitors at the NCAA wrestling tournament this past weekend.
"It is not frustration with or disappointment in the kids. Breaking through is hard," the coach said. "When you get that many good kids in one spot, the margin for error is so small. Unfortunately, things didn't go our way in a couple of matches."
Nationally ranked Nick Soto and Corey Mock lost one-point matches that would've put them in the quarterfinals, and they lost to opponents they had beaten earlier in the season.
"We have to win those matches," Eslinger said. "I feel like we are making progress. This tournament is where we wanted to make progress this year, so it's frustrating."
Never one, though, to sit on his hands, much less his frustration or disappointment, the coach was in the office as the sun rose Monday morning taking the first steps in UTC's "March to the Arch" (next year's tournament in St. Louis). He was working already on both recruiting and some type of full-time training program at the school.
"When you look at one thing upper-echelon teams have that we don't, it is guys training full-time at the school for Olympic or world team spots," he said. "I need to be doing everything I can to get it."
Eslinger also is looking specifically for depth in the 125-, 133- and 141-pound weight classes and either a 149- or 157-pounder to replace senior Alex Hudson.
He's looking to add to a starting lineup that returns nine. The team posted 16 wins, the most for UTC since it went 16-1 in 2007, won the Southern Conference regular-season and tournament championships and finished 24th in the final Top 25 rankings.
"All I can say is it's going to be a lot of fun," Mocs assistant Jon Sioredas said. "And we have some hammers coming in, too."
Consistency has been a program watchword since Eslinger took the job five years ago.
"Consistency is the first step to greatness, and I thought we were much more consistent this year," he said. "We had some kids that showed they belonged in the upper echelon, and I think we showed that we belong in the Top 25."
The future looks bright.
"It could be good [next year]. We have some good kids coming in, and we're going to find others," Eslinger said. "There is a lot of time between now and then, but we are proving our consistency on the mat, academically and socially, and I think that has changed our identity from what it has been the past 20 years.
"I think Corey Mock can come back and win a national championship. He and Nick are as good as anybody in their weight classes. I think we have 10 guys that are as good as anybody. I think my guys have earned the right to win, but then you have to go out and physically do it."
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org 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 ...