The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling team will be the opponent when Big Ten member Illinois opens its home season this afternoon.
"Not really a big deal. I don't get caught up in it," UTC coach Heath Eslinger said of being on the road. "There's still a circle and seven minutes on the clock each match."
The Illini, ranked seventh nationally, have a win over eighth-ranked Lehigh and a Dec. 2 loss to top-ranked Iowa.
"Obviously on paper they're probably favored, maybe all 10 weight classes," Eslinger said. "Paper is not that significant to us."
This will be UTC's second meet against a ranked opponent. The Mocs, who defeated Ohio University 18-17 last Monday, beat No. 12 Stanford 22-15 on Nov. 20.
Illinois has four ranked wrestlers, including freshman 125-pounder Jesse Delgao, whose victories include a win over top-ranked Matt McDonough of Iowa. The sixth-ranked Delgao is 11-1 with seven technical falls. Jordan Blanton (174) was an All-American in 2010 and has a 10-1 record.
Sixth-ranked Eric Terrazas is 11-1 and will be facing Kelly Felix (149), one of the Mocs' most consistent performers, and 197-pound Mario Gonzalez will meet Niko Brown, the only Moc still unbeaten in dual meets. Gonzalez is ranked 13th.
Illinois has five wrestlers who qualified for the NCAA tournament last year -- B.J. Futrell (133), Terrazas (149), Jackson More (157), Blanton (174) and Tony Dallago (184). Futrell gained All-America honors by finishing eighth.
"Our emphasis is to continue building on our strengths and have our guys gain confidence, but this is a big meet for us as a team and for individuals as well," Eslinger said. "A win over a Big Ten opponent is big regardless."
The Mocs are expected to keep the lineup Eslinger has fielded most of the year. The only question appears to be at 125 pounds, where they'll start either Blake Thomas or Cole Gallagher. Nicko Soto will be at 133, Shawn Greevy at 141, Dan Waddell at 174, Brandon Wright at 165, Levi Clemons at 174, Robert Prigmore at 184 and Kevin Malone at heavyweight.
Malone, though just a freshman, leads UTC with 12 wins. Soto and Prigmore, who won the Davidson Open, have eight victories each.
The match is a homecoming opportunity for first-year Mocs assistant coach Patrick Bone, who went to Illinois after winning four Virginia high school state championships. A two-time NCAA qualifier, he graduated from Illinois in 2010.
The Mocs will return home immediately after the match and will continue preparations to host the Southern Scuffle Jan. 1-2 at McKenzie Arena.
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 ...