Wrestlers Seek 23rd SoCon Title Saturday

Last year, the wrestling team tied Minnesota with nine NCAA Qualifiers, the highest number among NCAA Division I programs.

 

This year, Chattanooga Head Coach Chris Bono hopes to improve that figure one better.

 

The Mocs host the 2008 Southern Conference Championships Saturday at the McKenzie Arena and will be favored to win their fourth straight SoCon title and 23rd overall since joining the league in 1978.

 

The individual weight class winner and five wildcards selected by the six SoCon coaches will compete at the NCAA Championships March 20-22 in St. Louis.

 

While the tournament seedings won’t be decided until late Friday night, Bono feels the Mocs will have at least five No. 1 seeds including seniors Javier Maldonado at 125 pounds, Josh Edmondson at 184 and SoCon Co-Wrestler of the Year Lloyd Rogers at 174.

 

“These guys know how important conference is,” Bono said.  “It’s either win or go home.  We are looking to qualify all 10 guys for the NCAA Championships.  That is feasible.  It is feasible.  These guys can do it.  Not many teams in the country do it.  I’d like to get all 10 guys there, they all deserve it.  If we get all 10 guys there, we might be able to do some damage at the Tournament.”

 

Chattanooga last hosted the SoCon Mat Jam in 2000, and the Mocs were league champions that year as well.  The 2000 tournament was held in Maclellan Gym, the wrestling home of the Mocs.  This year’s event will move across the street to the McKenzie Arena, a much larger venue.

 

“It’s a step up,” Bono said.  “But you know what?  We are going to go from wrestling in McKenzie Arena to wrestling in front of 20,000 people in St. Louis.  It’s a step up.  That’s part of the process.  When you wrestle in a dual meet, there are 2,000 people in the gym.  When you wrestle at the conference, we hope to wrestle in front of 5,000 to 6,000.  Then you get to go and perform in front of 22,000 people.  That’s what it is all about.  These guys are wrestling in their home arena.  Hopefully most of the fans are ours.  It should not be a problem.”

 

Other Mocs likely to receive No. 1 seeds based on their records against SoCon competition include sophomore Cody Cleveland (141) and junior Seth Garvin (157).

 

Maldonado brings a 20-match SoCon win streak into the Mat Jam as he has never lost to a SoCon wrestler in the regular season or the tournament.  He is a two-time SoCon Champion in his class, is ranked 19th nationally and brings a 16-7 overall record into the tournament.

 

Wrestling at 133 pounds will be Steve Hromada.  A senior, Hromada is 15-8 overall and was 2-2 in SoCon duals.

 

Cleveland owns the highest national ranking on the team at No. 11.  He stands second on the squad in wins with a 23-6 record and is among the top five nationally in technical falls with eight.

 

Joey Knox missed two SoCon matches because of illnesses but won the other three.  The sophomore is ranked 16th and is 20-8 on the season.  He has a potential matchup with likely No. 1 seed and sixth-ranked Scott Ervin of Appalachian State who shared Wrestler of the Year honors with Rogers.

 

Garvin is 4-0 in the league and is another 20-match winner with a 21-5 ledger.  Junior Nick Davis, 11-11 overall, is capable of making the finals at 165 pounds.

 

Rogers, ranked 14th, led the Mocs with a 24-3 overall mark and a 16-1 record in duals.  He was a SoCon runnerup in 2007 and earned a spot at the NCAAs with a wildcard berth.

 

Edmondson is the defending SoCon champion at 184 pounds.  This season, the senior sports a 19-11 record and was a perfect 5-0 in league matches.

 

Matt Koz won a SoCon title at heavyweight last year but has wrestled at 197 this season.  The senior, ranked 18th, is 18-7 overall and won the four SoCon matches he competed in this season.

 

“We have a really good group of seniors,” Bono said.  “I expect all of them to be conference champs.  At 197, we are going to be in a battle.  There is a really good kid there ranked at No. 12 in the country.  But Matt Koz can wrestle with anybody in the country, and I’d love to see all of them leave as conference champs.”

 

Freshman Matt Lettner produced an impressive rookie season for the Mocs at the heaviest weight class.  His 4-1 league mark came close to being unblemished if not for a two-overtime, two-point loss to probable No. 1 seed Ryan Hsu of UNC Greensboro in the regular-season finale.

 

Tickets for the Championships are $15 for adults, $10 for children ages two to college age.  They can be printed from home on-line at GoMocs.com or purchased at the McKenzie Arena box office.

 

Doors open at 10 a.m., and the first round begins at 11 a.m.  The championship finals are scheduled for 7 p.m.

 

The finals can be viewed live via the Internet.  The broadcast will be available on a subscription basis and can be accessed by visiting UTC’s official athletics website, GoMocs.com or that of the Southern Conference at www.SoConSports.com.  Current Chattanooga All-Access subscribers will receive the webcast as part of their existing subscription.

 

No. 18 CHATTANOOGA MOCS  (11-6, 5-0 SoCon)

125  No. 19 Javier Maldonado (Sr., Kissimmee, Fla., 16-7)

133  Steve Hromada (Sr., Wheatley Heights, N.Y., 15-8)

141  No. 11 Cody Cleveland (So., Tullahoma, Tenn., 23-6)

149  No. 16 Joey Knox (So., Dublin, Ga., 20-8)

157  Seth Garvin (Sr., Hoover, Ala., 21-5)

165  Nick Davis (Jr., Gainesville, Fla., 11-11)

174  No. 14 Lloyd Rogers (Sr., Palm City, Fla., 24-3)

184  Josh Edmondson (Sr., Medical Lake, Wash., 19-11)

197  No. 18 Matt Koz (Sr., Strongsville, Ohio, 18-7)

285  Matt Lettner (Fr., Chattanooga, Tenn., 11-11)

 

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