By Chandler Morrison — Staff Writer
When a team is down a couple of key starters and loses four duals in a weekend, some might say they’re having a bad stretch.
For Chattanooga wrestling, though, it didn’t feel like they were being pinned to the mat. In fact, they competed among some of the best that Division I wrestling has to offer, including Oklahoma, Bucknell, Old Dominion, and Lock Haven.
“We’re going to be battle-tested this season,” Mocs head wrestling coach Heath Eslinger said. “That’s what you want. Two years ago, we knocked off Oklahoma. Our mentality is that we’re as good as anyone out there. When you’re a couple of men down, you just don’t have any room for error.”
The Mocs dropped all four opponents on the weekend, falling to Old Dominion, 21-10, and Oklahoma, 34-6, in pool play before a close defeat at the hands of Lock Haven in the Silver, 19-18. Individual wrestling, though, was what stood out as several Mocs found themselves up against top-ranked wrestlers in their weight classes.
11th-ranked Jared Johnson, in particular, made his pretense know in the tourney, beating two top 20 wrestlers in the 285-pound weight class.
“Jared is just a picture of consistency,” Eslinger said. “He went 4-0, and beat a top-15 kid and a top-20 kid on the day. Bryce Carr and Alonzo Allen had great weekends, and Chase Zemenck has only been back for two weeks and really battled hard.”
Other wrestlers on the team finished below .500 but wrestled top-notch opponents during the duals. Dalton Clark, Ramsuer, NC, went 4-0 on the weekend, but the opponents he wrestled included Oklahoma’s Clark Glass, who was actually ranked No.18 in the 165-pound class while wrestling in the 157-pound weight class, and Bucknell’s 12th ranked Victor Lopez, who only defeated Clark by a 5-0 margin.
The Mocs scored a lot of points down on the mat, including Zemenck and 17th-ranked Bryce Carr who scored the fifth and seventh most points in single matches. Carr also matched up against Old Dominion’s 9th-ranked Jack Dechow in a bout that went to extra periods before Dechow picked up the 5-3 decision. 197-pounder Clay Dent fell to Old Dominion’s 9th-ranked Kevin Beazley, 7-0.
“We wrestled some tough guys,” Eslinger said. “The good thing about coming out of this weekend was that we got better. We’re getting ready to hit our conference stretch, and we chose to redshirt some guys this year, so we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We’ve accepted that task, but we’re ready to move on and do something with this stretch.”
And although the duals side of the Mat Mocs was not strong this weekend, it was the focus of Eslinger coming into and out of the tournament.
“The team side of the sport is super important to me,” Eslinger said. “That’s what wrestling does, but it does give you—in the midst of that—an opportunity to assess individuals and where they’re at, and this weekend, we came away with a lot of good information.”
Chattanooga wrestling remains on the road this weekend to take on Southern Conference opponent Southern Illinois-Edwardsville on Saturday, July 21 at 5 PM.
Southern Scuffle A Sixth-Year Success
Out of the ashes of a dropped wrestling program came the opportunity for Chattanooga’s Heath Eslinger six years ago.
The only big-time collegiate wrestling tournament in the Southeastern United States, the Southern Scuffle was once in the heart of the basketball-ladened Tobacco Road where the hardwood powers of Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest, and North Carolina State were king.
Now home to the Athletic Coast Conference basketball tournament, UNC Greensboro held the most prestigious wrestling tournament in the South before their athletic program dropped wrestling completely.
When Eslinger searched for the rights to hold the tournament in a city deemed worthy of wrestling might, he not only had commitments from perennial wrestling powers, but he had the backing of a University eager to help with the endeavor.
“A lot of elbow grease goes into it,” Eslinger said. “Just a lot of tough work. There are a lot of people at the University and in the community that help us make that such a great event.”
And although the event is fourteen years old, the Scenic City Area only began back in 2012, and the Mocs have only competed in the event eight times including the last six years and a stint in Greensboro from 2005 until 2006.
The event has become more high profile over the years, and during the holiday break, UTC welcomed 10 of the top 25 teams in the country into McKenzie Arena. Among a total of 23 teams, the Mocs, headlined by 11th-ranked Jared Johnson who placed 3rd in the 285-pound bracket, finished 11th overall.
Although the tournament host finished in the middle of the pack, they receive a national spotlight on a annual basis as they light up the wrestling universe and more important the strong wrestling community that surrounds the Scenic City.
Contact Chandler at firstname.lastname@example.org