published Saturday, February 5th, 2011

SoCon champs duel at UNCG

The Southern Conference wrestling favorite will be in action today at Greensboro, N.C. and the perennial champion University of Tennessee at Chattanooga will be there.

But the favorite in the preseason coaches' poll was UNC Greensboro.

"We don't talk about that stuff much," UTC coach Heath Eslinger said. "We are focusing on where we need to be and what we're doing. UNCG has wrestled a tough schedule and has lost some tough matches."

The visiting Mocs haven't lost a conference dual meet in six years, but if there's incentive to be had, Eslinger pointed to last year's SoCon tournament and his team's disappointing finish.

"If [UTC wrestlers] need some incentive, I hope it comes from our poor showing last year," he said.

Today's meet matches the conference's 2010 regular-season winner against its tournament winner. That championship was the Spartans' first. Sunday, the Mocs wrestle Appalachian State in Boone, N.C.

"I want us to dominate both dual meets," Eslinger said. "We're going to wrestle two very tough teams, and my expectations are high for our athletes. We might get whipped, but we're going to push the pace and figure ways to put points on the board."

UNCG leads the conference at 3-0 with wins over Davidson, The Citadel and Appalachian. UTC opened conference competition last Sunday and won eight of 10 matches against The Citadel.

The Spartans, who are coming off a midweek loss to Liberty, are led by 149-pound Ivan Lopouchanski, a sophomore whose 31-7 record has him ranked 16th in the country. He's likely to face Alex Hudson or defending conference champion Dean Pavlou. UNCG's other top performers include Manning Ramirez (125, 14-11), Byron Sigmon (174, 20-10), Caylor Williams (197, 17-13) and heavyweight Peter Sturgeon (24-10).

Sturgeon, who has wins over five top-20 opponents this year, might face Matt Lettner, but more likely his opponent will be Robert Prigmore, a 197-pounder who moved up last week because of Lettner's knee injury.

"Prigmore is doing a nice job for us," Eslinger said. "He showed me Sunday that he's proud to be representing this team and that he wants to fight, and that goes a long way."

The Mocs expect to have Bucky Johnson at 133 for the first time this season. Johnson, coming off summer knee surgery, weighed in last week and has three weeks of live (practice room) wrestling under his belt.

The Mocs have an all-time record of 13-1 against UNCG.

Appalachian State is 0-2 in the conference after a 19-point loss at The Citadel and a one-point loss to UNCG. The Mountaineers' 184-pound Austin Trotman was the SoCon's 2010 wrestler of the year. He'll face the Mocs' Jason McCroskey, who dropped two decisions to him a year ago.

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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