The Chattanooga wrestling teams continued to dominate the Southern Conference with its fifth consecutive title today. Six Mocs won individual championships, leading UTC to 104 points in the event. UNC Greensboro finished in second place with a total of 74 while Appalachian State rounded out the top half with 63 points.
The Mocs brought one of the youngest teams in school history to the SoCon Championship meet. Chattanooga competed with six freshmen, a sophomore and just two juniors and a senior. Three of the six freshmen walked away with individual trophies while the six winners all earned automatic bids to the NCAA Championships.
“The boys did a good job and I am very proud of them,” stated head coach Chris Bono. “We dominated the conference and that was a goal of ours all season long. Now we have to move on and get ready for the NCAAs. Our goals are now all about making these guys All-Americans and NCAA Champions.”
Not only did UTC take the team title, the Mocs also swept the postseason awards. Bono was named the SoCon Coach of the Year. Junior Cody Cleveland earned the Wrestler of the Year and Jason McCroskey was tagged the Freshman of the Year.
The Mocs scored a huge upset at 125 with freshman Demetrius Johnson taking the title as the No. 3 seed. Johnson was 3-1 in SoCon action during the regular season but was forced to fight his way out of the middle of the bracket today. He started off with a first round pin against Appalachian State’s Austin Annas (4:31). He avenged his only conference loss when he defeated UNCG’s Mitchell Johnson (14-12) in the semifinals. Johnson concluded his run with a 7-3 decision over top-seeded Tyler Sim from The Citadel in the finals.
“We knew Demetrius had the talent, it was just a matter of keeping him healthy and keeping him on the mat,” added Bono. “He was able to do that this last month and his talent came through.”
Chattanooga also had a surprise showing at 133 when sophomore Josh Statum advanced to the finals. Statum, also a No. 3 seed, started with a 4-3 decision over The Citadel’s Richard Alarcon. He then upset second-seeded Casey Boyle of UNCG 9-5 in the semis. Appalachian State’s Frank Celorrio won the title 7-1 in the finals.
Cleveland dominated the 141 class, posting a major decision and a pin in the finals. He defeated ASU’s Michael Kessler 11-1 in the semifinals and dropped UNCG’s Chris Bencivenga at the 2:19 mark in the finals. Bencivenga and Cleveland shared the regular season wrestler of the year honors, despite the fact that Cleveland also won 13-6 in their other match this season. He made a statement today with his first period pin that he hopes to carry over to the NCAAs.
“It was a statement for Cody and the second year in a row he has won with a pin in the finals,” added Bono. He was by far class of the tournament.”
Freshman Dan Waddell was impressive in his run to the 149 title. He started off the day with a 5-4 decision in the semifinals over ASU’s Savva Kostis. He scored the Mocs second pin in the finals when he put the Spartan’s Ben Wilmore to the mat at the 5:54 mark.
Junior Joey Knox came from the No. 2 spot to win the 157 title. He started with a 7-6 decision over Appalachian State’s Wiliam Powell. He finished with a 7-1 decision over top-seeded Andrew Saunders from UNCG to earn his second straight trip to the NCAAs.
Senior Seth Garvin became a two-time SoCon champion when he won the 165 title. He won the 157-pound class last season. Garvin posted a major decision over The Citadel’s Derek Sickel in the semifinals. UTC’s lone senior in the starting lineup all year and the top-seed at the SoCon Championships, Garvin pinned the Spartan’s Edwin Hojilla at 6:51.
The Mocs final title was delivered by McCroskey at 174. He pinned his second round opponent, VMI’s Andrew Szymborski for the second time this season, at 5:30 in the semis. McCroskey went on to post a 6-0 shutout against The Citadel’s J.C. Oddo in the finals.
Freshman Ethan Winel finished third at the 197 to round out the Mocs’ top-3 finishers. Chattanooga will now set its sights on the 2009 NCAA Championships in St. Louis, Mo., on March 19-21.