The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga climbed one notch to No. 22 in the National Wrestling Coaches Association poll this week, and much of the reason for the Mocs' 11-5 record can be linked to freshmen.
Dawson Peck (285) is 5-1 since joining the team the week after the Southern Scuffle, while Michael Pongracz (149) is 16-9 and Scottie Boykin 15-11. That's a combined record of 36-21 with a .632 winning percentage.
"All three are doing a great job. They love to compete. All three have usable weapons in that each is really good at certain things," Mocs coach Heath Eslinger said. "That's one thing that's helped them be successful. Some people would say they're young. They don't act like it. They know you have to work hard in order to compete."
The Mocs put their ranking and their 2-0 Southern Conference record on the line tonight when they visit The Citadel in Charleston, S.C.
"They have a super solid team -- 10 good guys and a couple of really good guys: a returning All-American at 141 and a top-12 guy at 165," Eslinger said of the Bulldogs. "We definitely need to be ready to compete."
Pongracz, from Milford, N.Y., was originally going to be a 133-pounder but was going to be stuck behind top 15-ranked Nick Soto, and Boykin was an in-state kid. An undefeated Tennessee state champion for Murfreesboro Riverdale last year, he was a late signee.
"Everybody talked about him being a good athlete, but they also talked about him being a really good kid. We always want to keep the best kids here if they fit our mindset," Eslinger said. "We just didn't realize how much he liked to compete."
A freshman who was at Virginia Tech, Peck joined the Mocs and stepped into the starting lineup when Kevin Malone was injured in the pre-Christmas team win at Stanford.
The Citadel, which handed UTC its last road conference loss, 27-13 on Feb. 14, 2004, is led by 141-pound Ugi Khisignyam and 165-pound Turtogtokh Luvsandorj. Khisgnyam was an All-American in 2013, and Luvsandorj has been among national top 25 wrestlers the past two seasons.
"We've had a good week of practice," Eslinger said. "It's a hard time because things can get mundane. As a coach it's easy to get frustrated. As an athlete it's hard not to look toward the end. We're trying to stay balanced and focused on the next task, which is The Citadel."
The Mocs finally will get a break from a lengthy road schedule for their next meet, which is Feb. 2 against Appalachian State.
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.