Southern Scuffle today, Monday at McKenzie Arena

Southern Scuffle today, Monday at McKenzie Arena

January 1st, 2017 by Ward Gossett in Sports - College

Bryce Carr, bottom, and Sean Mappes, top, will both compete for UTC in the Mocs' Southern Scuffle. The two-day tournament at McKenzie Arena starts at 10 this morning.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

UTC's Heath Eslinger had help from head coaches at two other wrestling programs when it came to giving the Southern Scuffle credence when the Mocs first hosted the tournament six years ago.

UTC's Heath Eslinger had help from head coaches...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

SOUTHERN SCUFFLE

At McKenzie Arena

Doors open at 9 a.m. each day

Today

10 a.m. — Pigtail round

10:45 a.m. — Championship round of 32

1:30 p.m. — Consolations, round 1

2:15 p.m. — Championship round of 16

4 p.m. — Consolations, rounds 2 & 3

7:30 p.m. — Championship quarterfinals; consolations, round 4

Monday

10 a.m. — Consolations, round 5

Noon — Championship semifinals; consolation quarterfinals

2 p.m. — Consolation semifinals

7 p.m. — Championship finals; medal matches

More Info

The Scufflers

Air Force, Appalachian State, Cleveland State, Campbell, The Citadel, Cornell, Drexel, Duke, Edinboro, Gardner-Webb, Lehigh, Minnesota, Missouri, Navy, North Carolina, Northern Colorado, Northern Iowa, Oklahoma State, Penn, Stanford, Utah Valley, UTC, Virginia, VMI.

When Heath Eslinger decided six years ago to chase after the Southern Scuffle, the only major college wrestling tournament in the South, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach found he was supported almost from the outset.

With host UNC Greensboro dropping its wrestling program, the Scuffle was in jeopardy of being mothballed, joining the trend at the time of school administrators who believed they had better ways of using shrinking funds.

Before Eslinger even secured the tournament rights, he had assurances from the heads of two perennial top-10 programs that they would come to Chattanooga.

"It was a plus," he said. "It was a selling point to attract other teams."

So the Scuffle, which this morning begins its sixth year and a two-day run at McKenzie Arena, owes much to Cornell's Rob Koll and Missouri's Brian Smith.

"I remember switching from UNCG. When Heath said he was going to take it, I told him we'd be there," Smith said. "I suggested moving it further away from Christmas — into January."

Missouri, ranked No. 5, and Cornell, No. 8, are among 13 of the nation's top 31 teams taking part, according to the latest USA Today/NWCA poll. The group includes Oklahoma State, which stands atop the Dec. 28 national rankings, and ninth-ranked Lehigh.

"There are 10 teams from the Top 25 that will be in Chattanooga," Smith said. "Heath said the numbers are down, but I don't see it based on the competition. We don't get to see Lehigh that often, and I think Oklahoma State's backup team won the Reno tournament."

Penn State had won five straight Scuffle championships, but because of scheduling difficulties the Nittany Lions were forced to opt out of this year's tournament.

"They were looking at wrestling four days in seven and being on the road five days out of eight," Eslinger said. "I'm 100 percent certain they'll be back next year."

Missouri, Cornell and Lehigh figure to be Oklahoma State's strongest challengers, but 13th-ranked Minnesota, No. 16 Stanford, No. 21 Appalachian State, No. 22 Northern Iowa, No. 24 Virginia and No. 25 Drexel are also in the 24-team field.

The Nittany Lions' scheduling dilemma will cost the Scuffle a handful of defending individual champions, but the field is loaded, including a trio of NCAA champions: Oklahoma State's Dean Heil (141), Cornell's Gabe Dean (184) and Missouri's J'Den Cox (197), an Olympic bronze medalist.

Dean, who has won back-to-back national titles, will have his sights set on becoming only the third four-time Scuffle winner — he would join former teammate Kyle Dake and Minnesota's Cole Konrad — and Heil and Cox are defending Scuffle champions as well.

There are close to two dozen All-Americans in the field.

"It's a mini national tournament. It's been successful, and it's awesome the way the tournament's run," Smith said. "They have good volunteers and a good crowd."

Missouri was one of the teams that arrived Friday.

"We treat this tournament like we're going into the NCAAs, from the hotels to arriving a day and a half before and who's rooming with whom," Smith said.

UTC will be led by senior Jared Johnson and junior Bryce Carr.

Johnson (10-1) is the nation's 14th-ranked heavyweight. Carr (9-1) is a former national junior college champion and should be considered a dark horse in the 184-pound bracket. His lone loss was 2-1 to Virginia Tech's 10th-ranked Zack Zavatsky in early November.

Michael Pongracz (141) and Scottie Boykin (197), each taking a redshirt season as Mocs, will wrestle unattached.

Also competing for UTC are Alonzo Allen (125), Chris DeBien and Jake Huffine (133), Roman Boylen (141), Dylanger Potter and Zach Shareef (149), Justin Lampe (165), Sean Mappes (174), Barrett Walthall (184), Clay Dent (197) and Connor Tolley (285).

Doors open at 9 a.m. each day with wrestling beginning at 10. The finals are at 7 p.m. Monday. Daily admission is $30 for reserved seats, $20 for general admission and $10 for youth general admission. All-session passes are $55 for reserved, $35 for general admission and $15 for youth.

Contact Ward Gossett at wgossett@timesfreepress.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him on Twitter @wardgossett.


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