Five wrestling Chattanooga Mocs aim for All-America status

Five wrestling Chattanooga Mocs aim for All-America status

March 19th, 2013 by Ward Gossett in Sports - College

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NCAA logo

Cody Cleveland, the last University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestler to earn All-America honors, isn't certain where his plaque is.

"Somewhere at my dad's house," he said, "maybe somewhere above the fireplace."

The accomplishment is more about the memories for Cleveland, now an assistant wrestling coach at McCallie, his high school alma mater.

"I think what I remember most is losing that match for seventh place. It always stings to lose that last one," said Cleveland, who earned his All-America status for a top-eight finish at the 2008 national tournament. "But then I remember, too, beating [Michigan's] Kellen Russell, a four-time Big Ten champion, in the round of 12. And [McCallie coach Gordon] Connell was over behind the scorer's table, and I got to go over and give him a high-five."

UTC wrestlers Niko Brown (197 pounds), Josh Condon (165), Alex Hudson (149), Dean Pavlou (141) and Nick Soto (125) depart today for the 2013 NCAA tournament, which begins Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa.

"I'm fired up. It's crazy. I have a completely different outlook on this tournament," said Pavlou, now a three-time qualifier. "The last two times I went it was believing I was an underdog, because I was unseeded. I felt l had accomplished what everybody expected. This year I'm going believing there's no reason I can't go get up on that [awards] podium."

UTC assistant coach Jon Sioredas, a 2005 All-American for the Mocs, researched the last 10 years of the NCAA tournament and found that about one wrestler per weight class to gain All-America honors was unseeded. Three years ago there were 15.

But it's more about getting there, win or lose, Sioredas said.

"Absolutely the journey," he said. "That one tournament is not going to justify who you are. Will it change your life? Probably not. ... Take a guy like Condon. This year has changed his life, and medaling would be icing on the cake. It's the process rather than the medal that's going to dictate success."

Cleveland recalled his process, remembering in great detail the two shoulder surgeries, a weeklong hospital stay with a staph infection, knee surgery and the pins and needles awaiting word from the NCAA on a sixth [medical hardship] season. He also, though, remembers the relationships he built.

"Dan Waddell and I wrestled three times my senior year in high school, and he won twice. But we became best friends and we still hang out just about every day," he said. "I stay in touch with most of my teammates."

Pavlou said his career book is almost written, "and I hope to finish it with a happy ending.

"I've gained so much from this sport, and I'm a different and better person from the time I got here," the former Bradley Central standout added. "Competing in this sport and making it through some daunting experiences will make future things in my life pretty manageable."

Pavlou has looked at the boards in the Mocs wrestling room, and the middle one always catches his eye. It's the one listing All-Americans.

"I'd love to have my name up there -- end my career with a big, fat exclamation point," he said, "but the journey is what it's been all about."