Ninth-ranked Illini wrestlers visit UTC today

Ninth-ranked Illini wrestlers visit UTC today

January 6th, 2013 by Ward Gossett in Sports - College

For those who missed the Southern Scuffle last week, there is still an opportunity to see a Top 10 wrestling team this afternoon.

Ninth-ranked Illinois trots onto the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus for a dual meet at 2 at Maclellan Gym.

"They're loaded," UTC coach Heath Eslinger said of the Illini. "They just won the Midlands [tournament]."

The Illinois lineup includes seven wrestlers ranked among the top 20 in their respective weights by InterMat. Four are in the top 10.

UTC, which finished 14th in its Southern Scuffle last week, has one wrestler ranked by InterMat: Nick Soto, who entered the Scuffle as the nation's ninth-ranked 125-pounder.

The Mocs have seen their share of ranked teams.

The field for the Scuffle, which drew record crowds Tuesday and Wednesday, included five top-10 programs: No. 1 Penn State, No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 3 Minnesota, No. 6 Missouri and No. 7 Cornell. The Mocs hosted No. 4 Iowa and No. 19 Virginia earlier this season.

"We have to continue to compete hard and find ways to win the close matches," said Eslinger, who had high hopes for more than one Scuffle medalist despite the top-10-heavy field.

UTC's lone medalist was 141-pound senior Dean Pavlou, whose challenge this afternoon is third-ranked D.J. Futrell.

While Pavlou placed seventh, three other Mocs came within a win of the medal rounds: Soto, 197-pound Niko Brown and 285-pound Kevin Malone. Soto will face fifth-ranked Jesse Delgado and Brown takes on 12th-ranked Mario Gonzalez. Malone's opponent is Chris Gonzalez.

Illinois' other ranked wrestlers are Daryl Thomas (11th/133), Conrad Polz (eighth/165), Jordan Blanton (eighth/174) and Tony Dallego (19th/184).

While they won the Midlands team title for the first time since the 2005-06 season, the Illini did so without a single champion.

Delgado and Futrell placed second, Blanton third and Polz and Gonzalez fifth.

"It's always nice to win," coach Jim Heffernan said after the tournament. "These guys had to fight to win every match we could. It was great experience for everyone."

Marvin Lopez, who missed the Scuffle because of the flu, is expected to be back in the Mocs' lineup at 133 pounds. The rest of the projected UTC lineup is Alex Hudson (149), Trey Stavrum (157), Josh Condon or John Lampe (165), Jake Young (174) and Robert Prigmore (184).

Following today's meet, the Mocs will be off until Jan. 20 when they'll wrestle at Cleveland (Ohio) State. Their next home meet is Jan. 27 against The Citadel.