published Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

UTC wrestling coach Heath Eslinger still positive

Chattanooga's Nick Soto, left, tries to avoid getting pinned by Wyoming's Tyler Cox during their 125-pound match at the NCAA division I wrestling championships Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa.
Chattanooga's Nick Soto, left, tries to avoid getting pinned by Wyoming's Tyler Cox during their 125-pound match at the NCAA division I wrestling championships Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
MOCS AT NCAAS FRIDAY

Consolations: round 2

149 — Dylan Ness (Minnesota) pinned Alex Hudson, 2:30; 165 — Austin Wilson (Nebraska) dec. Josh Condon, 10-7; 197 — Nathan Schiedel (Binghamton) pinned Niko Brown, 6:12.

It was hard Friday afternoon for Heath Eslinger to consider the Southern Conference regular-season and tournament championships. His honor as the league's coach of the year had been long forgotten.

His University of Tennessee at Chattanooga team got started up wrestling's Mount Everest, the NCAA Division I tournament, but failed to approach the top.

Yet he wasn't dejected. He saw progress, and perseverance was way ahead of disappointment in his mind.

"I'm disappointed for our guys. They worked hard and it didn't work out," he said from Des Moines, Iowa, where his five-man contingent increased the Mocs' win total at the tourney from one in 2012 to three.

"I have four seniors that have had a huge impact on this program, and I think we've had an impact on their lives. Our kids are not working to win the conference tournament but working to be on the [awards stand] at this tournament. We'll keep working and keep working, and things will move in our direction.

"We wanted our guys to come back with a national championship. It's what our staff wants, too, and we're not going to stop trying to get it."

When the Mocs return Sunday, several of them will head straight to meetings with tutors to get caught up on what they missed in classes this week. Eslinger quickly will go back to work on the future.

"We'll keep going back to the drawing board and figure out what we need to do," he said. "We'll make adjustments, raise money and do something about [getting All-Americans]. I have guys that want to do something about it."

With very little fanfare -- certainly no police escort to the airport -- Eslinger and his staff and wrestlers Nick Soto, Dean Pavlou, Alex Hudson, Josh Condon and Niko Brown departed Tuesday for the NCAAs. They'll return the same way Sunday.

For Pavlou, Condon and Brown, wrestling competitively at the college level is no longer a part of their futures.

"Pavlou wrestled his heart out and came up short," Eslinger said, "and I'm so proud of Condon, who changed in a positive way a lot of things in his life this year. Niko had a great year when you look at the total body of work. He didn't get exactly what he wanted, but he grew up a lot."

While Soto, a sophomore, didn't wrestle that well this weekend, Hudson, a freshman, was on the cusp of reaching every wrestler's goal and coming home as an All-American.

"He wrestled the tournament of his life. He was beating the No. 5 seed and gets caught on his back. He comes back and wins and then loses to the No. 6 seed after leading," Eslinger said.

"We have a lot of things to be proud of. Most importantly, I'm proud of the athletes we're producing. We're knocking at the door, but so are a lot of other people. Unfortunately, no one is going to open it for you. You're going to have to do it yourself."

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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