Wrestling Mocs looking forward

Wrestling Mocs looking forward

The coaches admit to disappointment for the 2010 ending but have high hopes for the coming season.

March 24th, 2010 by Ward Gossett in Sports - College

There was little talk of disappointment or of bumps in the road when Heath Eslinger and his staff returned from last weekend's NCAA wrestling tournament.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach and assistants Rocco Mansueto, Josh Lambrecht and Mike Hatcher didn't have time. They were planning workout schedules, following up on recruiting contacts, polishing the 2010-11 schedule and finalizing summer camp schedules.

That UTC failed to win the Southern Conference tournament for the first time in five years was a disappointment, but for the staff it was no more so than failing to have at least one wrestler attain All-America status at the nationals.

"You can't take the competitiveness out of us, and when we look at the ending it's still a little sour," Mansueto said.

That sour ending did little to change the staff mindset overall. They made a collective decision just a couple of days before the conference tournament to suspend three starters, at least two who were thought to be tournament finalists.

"We had to make a tough decision, but we set ourselves up to reach our goals in the future," Lambrecht said. "We were able to act on some things we had been talking about, letting people figure out that we were serious about making a change."

The suspensions enforced the staff's belief in total dedication to the program, including academics and social conduct.

"We calculated risks and knew the possibilities, but we did what was bet for the program," Eslinger said. "The setback at the conference tournament made it easier to see what we want to do here. We want to win the tournament, but we also want All-Americans, NCAA finalists and NCAA champions.

"Our mindset won't change much. Too, we'll have more time. This staff was not together until September. We now will have a full year to take the team in the direction we want to go."

That direction began with Tuesday workouts, although NCAA rules will limit the amount of time coaches can have with the wrestlers. It will continue with 10-15 Mocs attending the University Nationals April 8-10. The Mocs will have a staff member at the National High School Coaches Association and the FLO wrestling national tournaments this weekend for recruiting, and on April 22 some of the team will head to Cleveland, Ohio, to compete in the U.S. Open.

Then, as Mansueto penned in a newsletter, the team will be expected to "train like mad men," for next season.

During last year's transitory summer from the former coaching staff, only three or four of the Mocs did any wrestling or weightlifting.

The wrestlers will have specific guidelines for summer workouts with coaches looking for enhanced technique and more strength.

Eslinger feels the Mocs have a good nucleus returning -- all but 133-pound Josh Statum are back -- with NCAA qualifiers Bucky Johnson (125), Dean Pavlou (149) and Jason McCroskey (184) among them. The staff is filling out the paperwork necessary for injured Cody Cleveland, an All-American in 2008, to get another year of eligibility, and Dan Waddell, a NCAA qualifier in 2009, returns after sitting out this season with knee and shoulder injuries.

There also will be Ben Johnson, who took over at 141 after Cleveland was hurt, and Brandon Wright (165) and Jake Young (174), who were ranked in the top 20 nationally most of the season.

"When you break down the lineup, I think we overachieved in the majority of weight classes. We grew in maturity and responsibility," Mansueto said.

Eslinger said besides the season's finish that he and the staff were frustrated early by losses to Top 20 teams Virginia Tech and Kent State. But he also noted highs along the way.

"Beating Northern Iowa, a top 20-type team, was huge, and I feel like we consistently put 10 guys on the mat that went hard," he said. "The ultimate high was seeing the team come together relationship-wise and everybody getting on the same page. I get the feeling that the guys on this team want us to succeed and that they felt badly when we didn't."

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