UTC wrestling team wins on senior day as coach Heath Eslinger hits milestone [photos]

UTC wrestling team wins on senior day as coach Heath Eslinger hits milestone [photos]

February 12th, 2018 by Gene Henley in Sports - College

UTC's Chad Pyke, right, wrestles Gardner-Webb's Brett Stein during the 165-pound bout in Sunday's dual at Maclellan Gymnasium. Pyke won 6-4, and the Mocs won 37-5 on senior day.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter

Gallery: UTC wrestling team wins on senior day as coach Heath Eslinger hits milestone

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After last week's narrow loss to Appalachian State, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling program couldn't wait to get back on the mat.

With another chance Sunday against Gardner-Webb, the Mocs made their wait a rewarding one.

UTC dominated the Bulldogs from the outset, winning the first four matches and nine out of 10 of the way to a 37-5 victory Sunday at Maclellan Gymnasium. It was the 100th dual win of coach Heath Eslinger's career, and it came on senior day as the program honored seven wrestlers and manager Jay Hennebaul.

In his ninth season, Eslinger improved to 100-61 overall and 52-5 against Southern Conference competition.

"I'm a team guy," Eslinger said. "I love the team part of sports. I'm not an individual guy, so it's not my 100th win, it's another 100 wins for the university. There's guys that won before me, there's hopefully guys that will win after me. I think some of these marks are marks of resiliency, not greatness — can you make it that long? If you asked me when I first got the job if I would get to 100 wins, I would have said no because I wouldn't stay long enough.

UTC's Michael Pongracz, pictured, won his 141-pound bout against Gardner-Webb's Denton Spencer 12-0 Sunday afternoon at Maclellan Gymnasium. The Mocs' 37-5 victory was the 100th dual win of coach Heath Eslinger's career.

UTC's Michael Pongracz, pictured, won his 141-pound bout...

Photo by C.B. Schmelter

"There's a lot of work here, but I'm grateful for the opportunity, I'm grateful for what the athletes invest. I've had a lot of assistant coaches over the years that have poured into this place, administrators that have poured into it. I'm a fraction of the puzzle that it takes to make something like that, so I'm grateful to be a part of it."

The Mocs (7-7, 5-1) close their regular season Saturday at Campbell, then turn their attention to next month's SoCon tournament in Charleston, S.C. They were coming off an 18-16 loss to the Mountaineers the previous Sunday in a match in which they thought they were the better, more aggressive team.

Not getting the result they wanted and having to stew on that for a week led to a focused performance from the outset against Gardner-Webb.

Connor Tolley (285), who missed time with a head injury, won by pin. Michael Pongracz (141), Roman Boylen (149), Bryce Carr (184) and Scottie Boykin (197) won by major decisions, while Chris Debien (133), Chad Pyke (165) and Justin Lampe (174) won by decision and Alonzo Allen (125) won by forfeit.

Boykin, Carr, Dylan Forzani, Cody Hill, Lampe, Pongracz and Pyke were honored before the match.

"There was a bad taste in our mouth last week from the App State match," said Pyke, a graduate transfer from North Carolina State. "We know how good we can be. I don't think we've had all 10 guys click together yet. When we do, we will be a top-20 team in the country with two or three All-Americans.

"I'm so thankful to be a part of a program and be on the team where Eslinger gets 100. To be around this group of seniors, there's so much love, and I'm excited to go to battle with them against Campbell, conference (tournament) and national (tournament). It's going to be a good end of the journey for all of us, and we're going to stick it out together. We're a band of brothers, so it's a special day."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.