Mocs' 2011-12 possible starters
125-Bucky Johnson (Sr.) or Prescott Garner (Jr.); 133-Garner, T.J. Mitchell (Soph.) or Cole Hayes (Soph.); 141-Shawn Greevy (Fr.) or Trevor Herron (Soph.); 149-Dean Pavlou (Jr.) or Trey Stavrum (Soph.); 157-Josh Condon (Jr.), Kelly Felix (Sr.) or Dan Waddell (Jr.); 165-Brandon Wright (Sr.), Condon or Waddell; 174-Wright or Jake Young (Soph.); 184-Robert Prigmore (Jr.) or Sam Kuntz (Soph.); 197-Niko Brown (Soph.), Prigmore or Kuntz ; 285-Kevin Malone (Soph.)
Possible redshirt years: Mitchell, Alex Hudson (Soph./149), Levi Clemons (Soph./174)
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is expected to win Southern Conference wrestling championships.
Getting to Saturday night's awards ceremony at the NCAA tournament still is not expected.
When the Mocs failed a year ago to win the conference tournament, there was some wailing and even gnashing of teeth. That problem was rectified this year.
"After our [fourth-place] finish in the tournament last year there was a lot of pressure to win it, and there was a little bit of relief when it was over and we had won it," Mocs assistant coach Rocco Mansueto said after the team's banquet Thursday night. "We relaxed."
The wailing, though not as loud, and the gnashing, while not as often, returned when UTC's six NCAA qualifiers failed to win a match, going 0-for-12 in Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center last week.
Expectations are changing. It is no longer enough to win the SoCon regular-season and tournament titles. As Mansueto said, the conference tournament is no more than a gateway to the ultimate goal of winning NCAA championships.
While six Mocs earned NCAA trip tickets, they wound up spending much more time in the stands than on the mats.
"You can't be thrilled with just getting that ticket. That ticket should be an expectation, not the end goal," Mansueto said.
Kent State had its first national champion this year after beginning anew with its program a decade ago, and the Mocs coaches are in it for the long haul.
"I will not change the direction we have decided to take with this program," head coach Heath Eslinger said. "We have to continually raise the bar. We can have national champions here, but it isn't going to happen overnight."
Though there are just three openings because of graduation (141, 184, 285), Eslinger has told the wrestlers that being a starter or getting to the NCAA tournament this year is no assurance of a starting job next year.
"There's not a kid on the team whose job is safe," he said. "Because we're a Division I wrestling team, our job is to compete with anyone, and we're going to continue to bring kids in. Our guys need either to step up to the plate or be a backup."
One who has decided to step up is Bucky Johnson. He has decided that he's going back to 125 pounds (from 133) for his senior season.
"We let the coaches and our fans down," he said. "As a group we were disappointed with our performance. A lot of us didn't wrestle to our potential.
"We wrestle one way in the practice room and another in real matches. I am going back to 125 and I plan to wrestle in the University nationals at 121. I'm going to wrestle all summer."
n At the banquet Thursday, junior Dan Waddell (165) won the Ethan Reeves workhorse award, Cody Cleveland (141) won the Jim Morgan MVP award, Niko Brown (197) was presented with the most improved trophy, Jason McCroskey (184) received the Pat Murphy academic award and Shawn Greevy (141) was honored as freshman of the year.
n The coaches have been busy. It's likely that next season's home schedule will include Stanford, Central Michigan and Ohio University. Too, recruiting goes on. There reportedly was a prospect on campus earlier this week and a handful were expected this weekend.