The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling team won the Southern Conference Championship, besting second-place UNC Greensboro by 10.5 points (98-87.5) in Boone, N.C. today. The Mocs put eight wrestlers in the finals, taking four individual trophies in the one-day event. After a disappointing fourth-place finish last year, Chattanooga won its 25th overall SoCon title and sixth in the last seven years. The Mocs' SoCon-record 25 team championships have come in just 34 years in the league.
"It was a good day," stated head coach Heath Eslinger who was named the 2011 SoCon Coach of the Year following the championships. "It was a good team effort. Every weight class wrestled hard."
With four runners-up and one third-place finisher to go along with its four conference champs, UTC totaled 98 points to dethrone defending champion UNC Greensboro (87.5 pts.). Host Appalachian State placed third with 57.5 points, followed by The Citadel (44.5 pts.), VMI (27 pts.) and Davidson (18 pts.).
Senior Cody Cleveland (Tullahoma, Tenn.), juniors Demetrius Johnson (Memphis, Tenn.) and Brandon Wright (Germantown, Tenn.) and sophomore Josh Condon (Powder Springs, Ga.) all won individual titles and automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament.*
Johnson took the first title for the Mocs when he won at 133. Johnson has missed most of the season with a knee injury, but returned for the SoCon portion of the Mocs' schedule. He entered the event with a 3-1 mark, his only loss coming to UNCG's Jamel Johnson.*
Johnson had a bye as the No. 2 seed and defeated Davidson's Alex Radsky 3-2 in the semifinals. That set up a rematch with the Spartans' Johnson in the finals. Demetrius dominated the match and posted a 6-1 victory. It was his second career SoCon title after winning at 125 as a freshman in 2009.*
Cleveland, a 2008 All-American, won his third SoCon title at 141. He pinned The Citadel's David Yost in the second round and defeated Appalachian State's Mike Kessler 9-5 in the finals. Cleveland also missed significant time this season with an injury but improves to 13-0 with two wins today.
Condon was the top-seed at 157 and lived up to the billing. He defeated UNCG's Justin Rice 9-4 in the second round and followed that with an 11-5 win over The Citadel's Pierre Frazile in the finals. A two-time All-SoCon selection, Condon will be making his first trip to the NCAA Tournament.*
Wright's win at 174 was impressive considering where he started the year. He moved up a weight to make room for junior Dan Waddell (Chattanooga, Tenn.) in the lineup, but lost his first four matches at 174. However, he stuck with it and was undefeated in regular season league matches, earning the No. 1 seed.*
In the tournament, Wright posted a 13-4 major decision over Appalachian State's Carter Downs in the second round. He then out-fought defending champion Bryon Sigmon of UNC Greensboro for a 6-4 win in the finals.*
"At the end of the day, I am a lot more proud of who we are, than what we did," concluded Eslinger. "This team is going to make our athletic department, our school and this community proud, because it is an outstanding group of guys. They are awesome. Not just because we won the Southern Conference, but also how well we have done academically and socially."*
Chattanooga's four second-place finishers included sophomore Prescott Garner (West Linn, Ore.) at 125, sophomore Dean Pavlou (Cleveland, Tenn.) at 149, junior 184 Jason McCroskey (Soddy Daisy, Tenn.) and sophomore Niko Brown (Kissimmee, Fla.) at 197.*
Waddell finished in third place at 165 while senior Matt Lettner (Soddy Daisy, Tenn.) was fourth at 285. Lettner, seeded sixth and wrestling on a bad foot, posted a big upset over Davidson's No. 3 seed Charlie Wolff 5-1 in the first round.*
The Mocs will now wait until Monday for the announcements of the NCAA at-large bids. McCroskey (23-9) is already in*with the second automatic bid at 184 given to the SoCon. Garner (19-13), Pavlou (14-11) and Brown (19-9) have outside shots for an at-large bid.