Freshman Nick Soto (133)
First opponent: Illinois' No. 4 seed Bernard Futrell (27-6)
Junior Dean Pavlou (149)
First opponent: Pittsburgh's No. 9 seed Tyler Nauman (27-5)
Senior Dan Waddell
First opponent: Clarion's No. 6 seed James Fleming (27-2)
Senior Brandon Wright
First opponent: Michigan State's David Cheza (15-10)
Sophomore Levi Clemons
First opponent: Minnesota's No. 4 seed Logan Storley (23-6)
Brandon Wright upset the No. 1 seed in overtime in the Southern Conference wrestling tournament. Dan Waddell got his conference championship in the final three seconds with a move he never uses.
"I'm not ready for it to be over. I want to wrestle more than two more matches," Waddell said earlier this week.
Both University of Tennessee at Chattanooga seniors have beaten odds throughout their careers and want to continue the trademark beginning today. They are part of a five-man UTC contingent intent upon surviving today and Friday and reaching the medal rounds and NCAA All-America status Saturday.
The others are freshman Nick Soto, sophomore Levi Clemons and junior Dean Pavlou.
"This is a week that can move our program forward on a national level," Mocs coach Heath Eslinger said. "At the end of the day our goal is to have guys wrestling on Saturday."
The tournament in St. Louis begins at noon EDT with a second session at 7:30. Friday's sessions are at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. and Saturday's are at 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.
UTC wrestlers have brought home 12 Division I All-America plaques, including three from Charlie Heard (1982-84) and two from Matt Keller (2006-07). The most recent Moc to reach the awards stand is Cody Cleveland (2008).
"This isn't the Southern Conference or the regular season," Eslinger said. "This is the national measuring stick, and this is a week that can move our program forward on a national level."
Three of the quintet have been to the nationals previously, so they have experienced an event with 20,000 fans and the cream of the college wrestling crop in the same building.
"I don't think we'll get caught up in the hype, which can almost be overwhelming," the 157-pound Waddell said. "The first time you're thinking about the stage rather than what goals you want to accomplish, but what it comes down to is another seven-minute match, which we have done untold times in our careers. It is seven minutes to score more points than the other guy."
Waddell made the field in 2009, Pavlou in 2010, and the 165-pound Wright got there last year as a 174-pounder.
"I was a little star-struck, but I realize now that it's just another wrestling match," Pavlou said. "It's the same circle and you're wrestling a guy that's your weight. This time I'm just going to go and wrestle."
Pavlou moved into the Mocs' starting lineup at 149 pounds the week of the SoCon tournament and claimed his second league title.
"It was extremely rewarding, a lot more meaningful," he said. "I went at the tournament very passionately, and I was wrestling with much more focus than I did the first time I won."
Soto bounded onto the national scene with a runner-up finish in the Mocs' first Southern Scuffle. The former two-time Florida state high school champion has been ranked among the nation's top 133-pounders since the Jan. 1-2 tournament in McKenzie Arena.
"I don't want to sound cocky, but my mindset is that I'm not going to let another guy beat me," Soto said. "I want to be focused on my matches rather than everything around me. I think I am more focused than I was earlier in the season."
Clemons was a late addition, earning his spot when another wrestler was injured and unable to compete.
"I was ecstatic, pumped, because three days earlier I thought my season was over," the 174-pounder said.
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 ...