There's no mystery to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's willingness to host the Southern Conference wrestling tournament.
Six times now the Mocs have hosted the event, and six times they have kept the championship hardware at home.
The Mocs won the program's 26th league tournament title since obtaining SoCon membership in 1977, actually locking up the crown before the championship finals. They scored 102 points and won by 29.5 points over Appalachian State and The Citadel, which finished in a second-place deadlock with 72.5 points apiece.
First-year member Campbell placed fourth with 65 points.
"It's huge to me for us to win my senior year," UTC 157-pounder Dan Waddell said. "We didn't win the regular season, and then to come in and run away with the tournament title says so much about this team and this program."
The individual champions -- and they're guaranteed spots in the NCAA tournament March 15-17 in St. Louis -- are UTC's Nick Soto (133), Dean Pavlou (149), Waddell and Brandon Wright (165); Appalachian's Tony Gravely (125), Mike Kessler (141) and Austin Trotman (184); and The Citadel's Tortogtokh Luvsandorj (174), Kelby Smith (197) and Odie Delaney (285).
It is the first conference title for Soto, a true freshman, and the second each for Pavlou, Waddell and Wright. Pavlou and Waddell won their first titles in 2009; Wright won last year.
"This was a much bigger win," Wright said. "I beat him two years ago and he beat me this year."
Wright's opponent, top-seeded Kyle Blevins, entered the tournament ranked 13th in the country and also was selected as the league's wrestler of the year.
However, Wright carried him to overtime and then pulled a reversal 10 seconds into the first period.
Mocs coach Heath Eslinger leaped the press-row table when Wright's match ended.
"He executed the game plan, and that's always fun as a coach," Eslinger said.
Soto wasn't happy with the way he wrestled, especially with family and his Florida high school coach in the stands, but he is headed to St. Louis nevertheless. Putting his 7-5 victory aside, the freshman was elated with the team win.
"It's awesome," he said. "Winning is contagious and the team did an awesome job. Levi [Clemons] came back to win [at 174 in the consolation finals] and that set the place late, but everybody wrestled really tough and the coaches did a great job of motivating the guys."
The Mocs had eight in the finals. However, only the champion in each weight class and the runner-up at 197 are guaranteed NCAA berths. That second 197-pound berth went to Campbell's John Weakley, who rebounded from a championship finals loss to pin Gardner-Webb's Jason Porter.
Appalachian's JohnMark Bentley was named coach of the year for his team's regular-season title, and Mountaineers senior Austin Trotman received the outstanding wrestler award.
The tournament produced two three-time champions. Trotman won his third, but so did The Citadel's Delaney, a champion in 2009 at 197 and in 2010 at 285. The only other repeater is Citadel's Turtogtokh Luvsandorj, who won the 157-pound title in 2010.
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 ...