published Saturday, May 24th, 2014

UTC has 11 wrestlers at University Nationals

Mocs' University Nationals representatives

(Listed alphabetically with weight and 2013-14 overall and conference records, where applicable):

Scottie Boykin (197; 21-14, 6-0); Levi Clemons (174; 26-13, 7-0); Kevin Cooper (149/157; 7-5); Clay Dent (184; 3-5); Jared Johnson (197; 4-4); John Lampe (184; 18-12, 7-0); Mike Pongracz (133/141; 22-13, 4-2); Byron Smith (125; 7-16, 2-2); D.J. Smith (184; 3-6); Nick Soto (133; 32-9, 6-0); Barrett Walthall (174/184; 6-9).

A group of wrestlers headed by Southern Conference champions Nick Soto and Levi Clemons departed Thursday for the University Nationals in Akron, Ohio.

The 11 University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestlers will compete today and Sunday. They include Scottie Boykin and John Lampe, who were members of the postseason All-SoCon team along with Soto and Clemons.

"A lot of big dogs will be there. Every other year they have the world team trials, so a lot of guys are coming out of the woodwork," UTC assistant coach Jon Sioredas said. "There will be national champions and also guys that are one year out [of school], so it will be very competitive."

Fellow Mocs assistant Niko Brown was one of the graduated wrestlers who planned to compete, but he suffered a knee injury this week during workouts.

Soto finished the season 32-9, Clemons 26-13, Boykin 21-14 and Lampe 18-12.

Several of the Mocs making the trip are youngsters, and some of those were part-time starters last season as UTC went 16-7 and won the conference's regular-season and tournament championships.

That group includes Clay Dent, Jared Johnson, Mike Pongracz, Bryon Smith, D.J. Smith and Barrett Walthall.

"This trip is mostly for them to get experience and see where they are," Sioredas said. "Everyone in the van with me is eager to compete. It's been long enough since the [NCAA] tournament for guys to take a break and then train for this. Some will use it as a stepping stone."

There are benefits for the veterans and youngsters alike.

"It can be a confidence-builder," Sioredas said. "Whenever you're competing you're getting better, and while the wrestling room is good, it isn't anywhere close to real matches, and the guys can get anywhere from two to eight matches and learn and grow from here."

One expected name that's missing is Michael Hooker, who wrestled some for the Mocs at both 149 and 157 pounds. A freshman, Hooker has left the team. He currently is in Army boot camp with the Army Reserve in his future, but after boot camp he is headed to Colorado Springs, Colo., where he intends to begin pursuing the Greco-Roman style of wrestling.

"He's most likely going to stay out there for good," Sioredas said. "He's pretty good at Greco. He can compete with the best guys, which was an eye-opener for him and for us. It will be interesting to see what he can do."

While Sioredas and Chattanooga Wrestling Club coach Mike Hatcher are with the Mocs at the University Nationals, head coach Heath Eslinger was in Edwardsville, Ill. He was among the featured speakers at the leadership academy workshop presented by the National Wrestling Coaches Association and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Also speaking was former Soddy-Daisy wrestler Kevin Ward, currently head coach at Ouachita Baptist in Arkadelphia, Ark.

Contact Ward Gossett at wgossett@timesfreepress.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.

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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