Heath Eslinger has been eagerly awaiting a wrestling meet tonight at Princeton and a Sunday doubleheader at Madison Square Garden.
His University of Tennessee at Chattanooga team has been in the wrestling and training rooms since taking on Iowa, Virginia and Cumberland on Nov. 16, so the Mocs have had almost a month to heal, take final exams and prepare.
"I think they feel great. We were just beat up, and the time off gave us a chance to heal and get ready for final [exams]," Eslinger said. "It was a nice break, but I think they're ready to get out of the wrestling room and wrestle somebody besides each other. Ultimately, the truth will be told in our performance."
The Mocs (3-2) tackle a winless Princeton team (0-6) that is wrestling at home for only the second time this year. The Tigers, whose conquerors include No. 5 Illinois and No. 23 Purdue, have had early lineups with as many as six freshmen.
"They have some really good kids on the team, and some of them haven't been in the lineup," Eslinger said. "I don't think we'll know who the guys are going to wrestle until we literally line up."
It's possible that UTC will have at least two changes in its 10-man lineup. Alex Ward (0-1) will replace Marvin Lopez at 133 pounds, and Josh Condon could make his official debut in place of John Lampe (7-6) at 165.
"We felt we needed to shake things up at 133. We're looking for some consistency there," Eslinger said. "Condon and Lampe will alternate this weekend."
A junior who regained his eligibility following fall semester exams, Condon has put together an 8-1 record while wrestling unattached. He is ranked 13th by Amateur Wrestling News.
Other Mocs in the AWN rankings are Nick Soto (10th) at 125 and Niko Brown (18th) at 197. Soto is 10-3 and Brown has a team-leading 14-1 record.
The top Princeton performer has been Scott Gibbons, who'll take a 12-6 record into his match against the Mocs' 184-pound Robert Prigmore.
The rest of the Mocs lineup should be Dean Pavlou (141), Alex Hudson (149), Trey Stavrum (157), Jake Young (174) and Kevin Malone (285).
Following their match tonight, the Mocs will go to New York for Sunday meets against second-ranked Oklahoma State (4-0) and unbeaten Rutgers (6-0), which beat Princeton 30-6 last weekend. UTC will wrestle Rutgers at 10:30 a.m. and OSU at 12:30 as part of the "Grapple at the Garden," the first collegiate wrestling event to be held at storied Madison Square Garden.
"I'm excited. They've sold a lot of tickets, so it looks like there will be a great turnout," Eslinger said. "It's almost a home meet for Rutgers, and we're excited about the opportunity to wrestle Oklahoma State in one of the most renowned athletic venues in the U.S. and maybe even in the world."
Rutgers has four wrestlers in the AWN rankings: Trevor Melde (15th/141), Scott Winston (13th/157), Gregory Zannetti (10th/174) and Dan Rinaldo (13th/184).
Oklahoma State's ranked wrestlers are Jon Morrison (7th/133), Jordan Oliver (2nd/149), Alex Dieringer (9th/157), Tyler Caldwell (3rd/165), Chris Perry (1st/174), Chris Chionuma (17th/184), Blake Rosholt (14th/197) and Alex Gelogaev (4th/285).