The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling team had a tough day in the opening rounds of the 2011 NCAA Championships in Philadelphia, Pa. All six Mocs were eliminated without a win in today's first round and consolation matches.
The Mocs had high expectations, entering the event with six qualifiers for the fifth time in the last 12 years. However, UTC leaves without a point for just the third time since joining Division I in 1978.
"I am disappointed," stated head coach Heath Eslinger. "We talk about measuring sticks, academically, athletically and socially. At the end of the day, the NCAA Tournament is the measuring stick for wrestling. I want to win our conference tournament every year, but it is not what we are judged on. I have to figure out a way to get guys to perform at this level."
Sophomore Demetrius Johnson (Memphis, Tenn.) started the day for UTC, taking on No. 5 seed Lou Ruggirello of Hofstra at 133. He was quickly pinned, less than a minute into the match. He was the first Moc to bow out of the tournament, losing in a pigtail match in the 133 consolations. He was shut out in a 6-0 decision to Lehigh's Frank Cagnina.
Senior Cody Cleveland (Tullahoma, Tenn.) took on Oklahoma's Zach Bailey at 141, an opponent he had beaten three times in his career. Unfortunately for the Mocs, the eighth-seeded Bailey snapped that slide, and Cleveland's 21-match winning streak that dated back to the 2009 NCAAs, with a 9-7 decision.
Cleveland took a 7-6 lead with a takedown in the final period, but could not keep Bailey down. An escape tied the match and sent it into overtime. Bailey won in overtime with a sudden-victory takedown.
Losing the first match at the NCAAs was not unusual for Cleveland. He dropped his opening contest during his All-American run in 2008. However, he was not able to duplicate that feat today. His outstanding career at UTC came to an end with a 7-3 loss to Christopher Drouin of Iowa State in the 141 consolations.
"Cody wrestled hard all day," added Eslinger. "But the thing about this tournament is there are no gimmes. When you have an opportunity, you have to take it. Unfortunately, this time of year there are no second chances. This is it."
The three-time Southern Conference Champion finishes with a 75-26 career record. That mark includes three All-SoCon honors to go with the 2009 SoCon Wrestler of the Year award and the Most Outstanding Wrestler at the 2009 SoCon Championships accolades.
Sophomore Josh Condon (Powder Springs, Ga.) was one of the few Mocs to get off to a good start, holding a 2-0 lead after the first period against Buffalo's Matt Lewandowski. That quickly changed when he chose down to start the second frame. He was not able to get up and was pinned at the 3:37 mark. It was the first time Condon had been pinned in his 48-match career.
That pin dropped Condon back to the consolations where he was matched up with Gardner-Webb's Alex Medved. Condon defeated Medved 6-1 earlier in the year, but had his hands full today. The score was tied at 3-3 after two periods. Medved posted an escape in the third to snatch a 4-3 win and eliminate Condon with his second loss.
Oklahoma State's Mike Benefiel shut out junior Brandon Wright (Germantown, Tenn.) with an 8-0 major decision at 174 in the first round. Wright was also shut out in his consolation match with Arizona State's Eric Starks. Neither Wright nor Starks had any offense in their match with Starks using a third-period escape and riding time to score a 2-0 win.
Junior Jason McCroskey (Soddy Daisy, Tenn.) fell to Minnesota's Kevin Steinhaus 5-2 in his first match at 184. Steinhaus used a first-period takedown, a second-period reversal and riding time to post the win. McCroskey went on to drop his consolation match 8-2 to Jonathan Fausey of Virginia.
Sophomore Niko Brown (Kissimmee, Fla.) opened his tournament with an 11-7 loss to Jay Hahn of Bucknell at 197. He fell in a technical fall to Missouri's Brent Haynes in the consolation round.
"This is an awesome group of guys," bragged Eslinger. "I don't want to take away anything they have accomplished this year and during their careers because of one weekend."
Chattanooga ends another impressive season that included its seventh-straight SoCon regular season title and another win at the SoCon Championships. Head coach Heath Eslinger closes out his second season at UTC with an 11-9 overall record and 5-0 in SoCon action.
"I want NCAA All-Americans and a national champion and I am not going to stop working until we get it," concluded Eslinger. "And when we get it, I am going to work harder to get more."
133 - Lou Ruggirello (Hofstra) - Fall (0:57) - Demetrius Johnson (UTC)
141 - Zack Bailey (Okla.) - Dec. 9-7 - Cody Cleveland (UTC)
157 - Mark Lewandowski (Buffalo) - Fall (3:37) - Josh Condon (UTC)
174 - Mike Benefiel (Ok. St.) - MD 8-0 - Brandon Wright (UTC)
184 - Kevin Steinhaus (Minn.) - Dec. 5-2 - Jason McCroskey (UTC)
197 - Jay Hahn (Bucknell) - Dec. 11-7 - Niko Brown (UTC)
133 - Frank Cagnina (Lehigh) - Dec. 6-0 - Demetrius Johnson (UTC)
141 - Christopher Drouin (Iowa State) - Dec. 7-3 - Cody Cleveland (UTC)
157 - Alex Medved (Gardner-Webb) - Dec. 4-3 - Josh Condon (UTC)
174 - Eric Starks (Ariz. St.) - Dec. 2-0 - Brandon Wright (UTC)
184 - Jonathan Fausey (Virginia) - Dec. 8-2 - Jason McCroskey (UTC)
197 - Brent Haynes (Missouri) - Tech Fall (2:52) - Niko Brown (UTC)