With a share of the Southern Conference regular season title on the line, first-year head coach Kyle Ruschell and his staff guided the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling team to a gutty 18-12 win over No. 25 Campbell in Maclellan Gym today.
UTC took six of the 10 matches in a clean dual that did not see either team score any bonus points. The Mocs move to 7-6 overall and close out its SoCon slate with a 5-1 mark. Both Appalachian State (6-6, 3-1 SoCon) and Campbell (5-1, 3-1 SoCon) have one conference loss each, and will likely share the league crown with Chattanooga.
"This is one that we marked early in the year," stated Ruschell. "We knew it was home, we knew it was going to be tight and if we wrestled like that, we knew we could win.
"There were two or three that we were supposed to win. There were two or three that they were supposed to win, but our guys fought hard. Everything we've been preaching, it all came together."
After the Mocs went up 12-6 through six bouts, Campbell closed the gap with victories at 174 and 184. Freshman Hunter Fortner made it very interesting against the Camels' 17th-ranked Andrew Morgan, before falling 9-4.
After junior Dominic Lampe lost 9-6 to Chris Kober at 184, junior Rodney Jones took the mat at 197 against the Camel's Austin McNeil. He quickly scored on a takedown, but gave up one later in the period after failing to finish up a double-leg. An escape in the second period gave him a 4-3 advantage entering the final frame.
Huge Win for @UTCWrestling today over No. 25 Campbell! Mocs will share the SoCon regular season title with the 18-12 victory against the previously unbeaten Camels.
McNeil escaped to tie it in the third and Jones got in on another double that McNeil fought off. Jones was able to work the third one for a take down and a 6-4 advantage. McNeil escaped, but Jones held on for the 6-5 win.
The Mocs were now up 15-12 with the heavyweight bout featuring senior Connor Tolley and Camel junior Odgerel Batkhishig. Batkhishig was a junior-college All-American who brought an 11-7 record and a 2-0 mark in league duals.
The only point awarded in the first period was a penalty on Tolley. Tolley escaped and scored a takedown in the second for a 3-2 lead after five minutes of action.
After an early Camel escape, Tolley wore down Batkhishig with constant pressure. He added another takedown midway through the third for a 5-3 lead. The gap closed to 5-4 following an escape, but Tolley sent the crowd into a frenzy with a late takedown to seal the win.
"It feels amazing," stated Tolley on his championship-clinching win on Senior Day. "Honestly, it's more about doing it as a family. Everything that we've done and being able to have this platform that the Lord blessed me with is just amazing. It's more than just wrestling, it's great being a part of a brotherhood."
In such a tight win, every point in every match was crucial, beginning with senior Alonzo Allen's opening victory at 125. He scored a 7-2 decision over Korbin Meink to set the tone early.
Junior Jake Huffine, who also participated in today's Senior Day festivities, fought hard against No. 20 Noah Gonser. He not only avoided giving up bonus points, he gave Gonser all he could handle in the 5-2 loss.
"It's huge, we knew we couldn't give up bonus points," said Ruschell when asked about the Mocs performances against Campbell's three ranked individuals. "Our guys went out to beat them, not just hang in the match."
Junior Chris Debien cruised in his 6-2 win over Nathan Boston at 141, while freshman Tanner Smith put up a big fight in a 7-4 loss to No. 9 Josh Heil.
The two biggest swing matches of the day came right before and after intermission from a pair of Mocs freshmen.
Ryan Resnick scored a thrilling 7-6 win over Campbell junior Benjamin Barton at 157. Coming out of the break, Drew Nicholson posted a 3-2 victory against Camel senior Cameron Pine. Those matches could have gone either way, but the Mocs were able to fight till the end for decisions in each.
"We had a great crowd here," added Ruschell. "These are those high pressure situations we want to put our guys in, where it comes down to you and you have to win. That's what SoCon, going to nationals, being All-American is all about.
"We have to put our guys into those high pressure situations so they can thrive and they did a great job. They came out, looked to score and made the guys wrestle a full seven minutes."
UTC has one more dual, at Indiana on Feb. 24, before the SoCon Tournament on March 10 in Boone, N.C. The 2019 NCAA Championships are March 21-24 in Pittsburgh, Pa.
In the meantime, UTC can clear a spot in the trophy case for its 17th SoCon regular season title since the league began recognizing a regular season crown in 1994. It is the first one for Chattanooga since 2016.
"It means a lot," said Ruschell when asked about the SoCon trophy. "More to alumni and guys on the team, because they're the ones that said hey we can win this thing. When they start believing it -- it can happen.
"It means a lot to the Chattanooga community and the alumni and I'm super happy for everyone who supports Chattanooga Wrestling."
125: Alonzo Allen (UTC) over Korbin Meink (CAMP) (Dec 7-2)
133: Noah Gosner (CAMP) over Jake Huffine (UTC) (Dec 5-2)
141: Chris Debien (UTC) over Nathan Boston (CAMP) (Dec 6-2)
149: Joshua Heil (CAMP) over Tanner Smith (UTC) (Dec 7-4)
157: Ryan Resnick (UTC) over Benjamin Barton (CAMP) (Dec 7-6)
165: Drew Nicholson (UTC) over Cameron Pine (CAMP) (Dec 3-2)
174: Andrew Morgan (CAMP) over Hunter Fortner (UTC) (Dec 9-4)
184: Chris Kober (CAMP) over Dominic Lampe (UTC) (Dec 9-6)
197: Rod Jones (UTC) over Austin McNeil (CAMP) (Dec 6-5)
285: Connor Tolley (UTC) over Odgerel Batkhishig (CAMP) (Dec 7-4)