The Chattanooga wrestling team captured its 27th Southern Conference Tournament title in Lexington, Va., on Saturday evening, placing eight wrestlers in the finals while four grabbed individual titles en route to the school's third-straight conference championship.
Chattanooga took a 31-point lead into the finals and distanced itself even further from the field as the evening progressed. The Mocs finished with 102.5 points, 40 ahead of second-placed Campbell (62.5), while The Citadel placed third with 59 points.
Coach Heath Eslinger was also named SoCon Coach of the Year for the second time in four years after leading the Mocs to Saturday’s 40-point win and a perfect 7-0 SoCon dual record during the regular season.
Sophomore Nick Soto (125), junior Alex Hudson (149), senior Josh Condon (165) and senior Niko Brown (197) all won titles for Chattanooga, while senior Dean Pavlou (141), freshman John Lampe (174) and senior Robert Prigmore (184) each suffered one-point defeats in the finals.
Sophomore Kevin Malone was the other-runner up for UTC at heavyweight.
Soto started the finals by capturing his second SoCon title. He dropped down from 133 to 125 this season and will return to the NCAAs after a 4-0 win over Campbell's Eric Montoya. After receiving a first round bye, Soto improved his overall record to 26-6 with Saturday's pair of wins.
Pavlou almost pulled off a huge upset over No. 6 Ugi Khishignyam in the finals at 141. Seeded second this weekend, Pavlou had dropped two matches to top-seeded Khishignyam in the regular season. He lost 8-3 at the Hokie Open and 8-1 in the dual on Jan. 27. However, Pavlou kept the score much closer on Saturday.
Khishignyam could only get one takedown in the opening period, and Pavlou quickly escaped to make the score 2-1. Pavlou tied it in the second period with an escape. He could not keep Khishignyam down in the third, though, giving up the escape for the 3-2 score.
The SoCon was awarded two automatic bids at 125, 141 and 165, so Pavlou will advance to the NCAAs for the third time in his career. He has a career-best 24-12 record this season
Hudson continued his hot streak with three wins at 149 today. He scored bonus points in his first two matches before winning his first SoCon title with a 7-3 decision over Gardner-Webb's Ryan Medved. He will take an 11-match winning streak and a 15-5 overall record to the NCAA Championships.
After winning the league at 157 as a sophomore in 2011, Condon moved up to 165 and won his second SoCon title on Saturday. He scored pins in his first two matches and cruised to a 7-3 win in the finals over Appalachian State's Zach Strickland. Condon was a candidate for the tournament's most outstanding performer, but that honor went to Khishignyam who also had two pins. He improved to 12-5 with his 10th-straight win, including pins in seven of his last nine matches.
Lampe, the top seed at 174, took on Gardner-Webb's Hunter Gamble in the finals. Gamble was seeded sixth, but only gave up an escape to Lampe in regulation. Gamble went on to win the match 2-1 in overtime.
Prigmore was also the top seed in a wide open 184-pound bracket. He faced Campbell's seventh-seeded James Cook in the finals. Prigmore gave up an escape and takedown in the second period that he could not overcome, dropping the match 3-2.
Brown adds on to an amazing season with a pair of wins on Saturday. He scored a 9-6 victory over Campbell's John Merickel to improve to 29-3 overall. He will make his second trip to the NCAAs after earning an at-large bid as a sophomore in 2011.
Malone tried for the fifth time in his career to score a win over The Citadel's Odie Delaney in the heavyweight finals. Malone tied the match at 1-1 with an escape in the third period against the 14th-ranked Delaney, but gave up a late takedown for the 3-1 loss. He is a candidate for an at-large bid to the NCAAs with an 18-10n record against some tough competition.
UTC will now have two weeks to prepare for the NCAA Championships on March 21-23 in Des Moines, Iowa. The Mocs will wait to hear if they get any at-large bids to the tournament.