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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / UTC's Colton Landers escapes to earn a point against Campbell's Gabe Hixenbaugh in the 133-pound match in their teams' SoCon dual Friday at McKenzie Arena. Landers, a redshirt junior, has made steady progress during his time with the Mocs after starring in high school for Cleveland's Blue Raiders.

It's taken four seasons for former Cleveland High School standout Colton Landers to assume a full-time position in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling lineup.

The 133-pounder redshirted in 2017-18, then wrestled just a few matches in his first official season on the mat with the Mocs as he learned behind another former Blue Raider, 2019 Southern Conference champion Chris Debien. In 2019-20, Landers got his first taste of some real action, making it to the second day of the Southern Scuffle at McKenzie Arena, which brought him some confidence.

Now a junior and a regular starter, Landers has performed well, including being one of five UTC wrestlers who won twice in Friday's home duals against Campbell and Bellarmine. Fabian Gutierrez (125), Franco Valdes (141), Weston Wichman (157) and Drew Nicholson (165) also went 2-0.

UTC split, falling 17-15 to the Camels — who clinched their third straight SoCon regular-season title with the win — before handling the Knights 38-3 to finish its duals schedule 8-4 overall and 6-2 in the league. Campbell (8-1, 7-0) won 47-3 against Bellarmine (1-9, 1-7) in the day's first dual at McKenzie.

The next scheduled competition for the Mocs is Feb. 28 at the SoCon tournament in Boone, North Carolina.

Photo Gallery

UTC vs. Campbell wrestling on Feb. 5, 2021

Landers beat Campbell's Gabriel Hixenbaugh 4-0 and pinned Bellarmine's Max Dansereau in 2:38 to improve to 8-4 overall and 6-2 in SoCon matches this year. He was one of three Mocs who wrestled in SoCon dual meets at 133 last season, along with Valdes and Wade Cummings. That's no longer the case, and Landers said "it feels good to start off the season" as the top wrestler in his weight class on the roster.

"The weight cut is always tough, but weekend after weekend of having these tri-matches, the weight isn't a problem anymore," he added. "I feel good. I'm wrestling and ready to go."

After a prep career in which he was 123-7 in his final three seasons with a state title and two runner-up finishes, his early time with the Mocs showed him he had to refine his style, particularly in the two starting positions on the mat.

"If your top and bottom game isn't up to par, you'll get manhandled big time," he said. "I've made leaps and bounds to get to where I'm at now."

UTC coach Kyle Ruschell reiterated that Landers' biggest challenge was "making weight every week," but now that it's become a routine — the Mocs have wrestled at least one dual meet for six straight weekends — the process has become a lot easier for him and people now have the opportunity to see what he can do.

"Him being the starter, that's his role now," Ruschell said. "He doesn't have to worry about anybody behind him, and so he can take confidence in that. I think now, walking out on the mat, he knows it's going to be really hard for people to score on him, and he can ride them and he's seen a lot of success.

"It's just a matter of putting it all together, and I think this year he's seeing the results."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.

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