2022 141 lb SoCon champion Shannon Hanna (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
The SoCon: From A to V
JohnMark Bentley and the Mountaineers welcomed 14 newcomers for the '22-'23 season; of the 14 there are 10 state champions, two state finalists, and two state placers/qualifiers. Among the veterans of the team, three made the All-Conference team and are nationally ranked. Caleb Smith (125) comes in at #18, Jon Jon Millner (149) picks up the #6 ranking, Cody Bond (157) takes #24, and Will Formato (165) secured #14. The Mountaineers locked up the highest national rankings in their respective weight classes in the conference. Appalachian kicks off their season against the NC State Wolfpack in Raleigh on Nov 4, the Mountaineers are coming back from a 25-10 loss against the Wolfpack last season with barnburner match-ups at 125 - Smith vs. Camacho (NCST), 133 - Carter vs Trombley (NCST), and 165 - Formato vs Bullard (NCST). The Mountaineers will host 11 home events this season, 9 dual meets, one invitational and one open tournament. Two events that keep Varsity Gym rocking and rolling are when UT-Chattanooga and Campbell come to town. And that's what's happening on Feb 5 (UTC) and Feb 19 (Campbell). The Appalachian-UTC wrestling rivalry has spanned decades, while a new rivalry has blossomed with Appalachian and Campbell. Another home match you won't want to miss is Jan 13 when Virginia Tech travels to Boone for some SoCon/ACC action.
Ned Shuck and the Knights are ready for their second season of SoCon action - kicking off the school year by announcing the hire of their graduate assistant Noah Hardy. The Knights will face off against two newly minted DI wrestling programs this season - Lindenwood University and Queens University of Charlotte, in two of their six home dual meets this season. The sole in-conference win last season for Bellarmine came in at a tie-breaking 19-18 win over Presbyterian College. The Knights will be ready for redemption, when they travel to Davidson College, to avenge their 20-19 loss from the previous year, again by tie-breaker criteria. Bellarmine is still unable to compete at the Southern Conference Championships this season.
The Camels are the favorite to win it again this season - with three nationally ranked (by InterMat) returning starters. Shannon Hanna (#18, 141), Caleb Hopkins (#20, 184), and Taye Ghadiali (#12, HWT), all returning SoCon Champs, locked and loaded for another action-packed season. Campbell is hosting a unique event this season with a great cause - Battle at Bragg, on Veterans Day. The Camels will face off against #5 Michigan at 5:00pm and #16 North Carolina at 7:30 pm, the first college wrestling program to ever host an event on UFC Fight Pass. The view should be spectacular, as it will be on Pope Army Airfield - I'm definitely looking forward to this first-of-its-kind event. The rest of the season is absolutely stacked for the Camels, the home duals kick off on December 4th against UVA. More top-tier competition will be coming to the Creek on January 7th - Nebraska. The dual meet season finale will be a newly blossomed rivalry: Campbell at App State. Like I mentioned above, nothing and I mean NOTHING gets Varsity Gym rolling like this rivalry right here. If you're free on February 19 - be there and be ready for pure electricity.
This summer was *insert fire emoji here* for head coach Kyle Ruschell and the Chattanooga Mocs, after picking up transfers Logan Ashton (Gr, 125), Jacob Boyd (Sr, 197), and Rocky Jordan (Gr, 174). A staff addition was made as well - Kyle Massey was named Assistant Coach. Three of the Mocs are named in InterMat's preseason poll: Logan Ashton - 30, Brayden Palmer - 23, Noah Castillo - 26, Rocky Jordan - 17, and Matthew Waddell - 26. McKenzie Arena will be the place to be on Dec 10, as UTC is slated to host Iowa for a dual meet competition. Two duals to watch as always are Feb 5 at App State and Feb 12 hosting the Campbell Camels. With the addition of these three transfers to the roster, I have a feeling the Mocs will be a force to be reckoned with. While they've had some close bouts with App State and Campbell, only losing by 5 points or less, these are some conference bouts to be on the lookout for this season.
The Citadel opened their home dual series with a 45-0 shutout against Queens University of Charlotte. The Bulldogs are returning from a 4-3 conference dual meet record, picking up wins over Presbyterian, Davidson, Bellarmine, and VMI. The conference's military rivalry has The Citadel traveling to VMI for a SoCon showdown at Cormack Hall. Last season, The Citadel made big noise at the NCAA tournament, with Dazjon Casto taking down returning National Champion Austin O'Connor (UNC); Casto recently transferred to Pitt, bringing Selwyn Porter in the 157lb spot. Another one to watch is 174 - Ben Haubert, who's continued to show great development and success on the mat.
Davidson Wrestling stirred up quite the buzz this summer, once Nate Carr Jr. was named the 13th head wrestling coach of the wrestling program. The Wildcats will host six home duals and will travel for 12 dual meets and open tournaments. They'll host Michigan State on Nov 11 to kick off their home duals. Coming back from a 5-10 dual season, Coach Carr and the Cats have some unfinished business from last season. A close conference loss against UTC (16-18) and an 8-point deficit from The Citadel (15-23) are two duals to keep in mind when watching these matchups this season.
Gardner-Webb hired a graduate assistant coach as well, recent graduate Evan Schenk. Schenk wrestled 174 for the Runnin' Bulldogs, with an 8-13 record last season. Other familiar faces returning on the lineup this season include returning SoCon Champion RJ Mosley (165), Jha'Quan Anderson (184), and Todd Carter (133). Mosley comes in at #29 on InterMat's preseason rankings. Some major non-conference matchups of the season will include a face-off against Nebraska at Buies Creek, and Army West Point will come to Boiling Springs. As y'all can tell, there's a theme with Queens University of Charlotte…most SoCon schools (seven) are wrestling them this season, we might see them as an addition to the conference in the near future. But let's bring it back to the Bulldogs - coming off of a 5-2 dual meet record in the conference, I think there's potential for a higher team finish this season.
*Note: Gardner-Webb and Campbell did not compete in a dual meet.
Presbyterian College released its schedule last month, aiming to host 6 home duals and traveling to 7. The Blue Hose are slated to compete in the Brawl at the Beach in their backyard at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. As the season progresses, we'll see more action on the road as they travel to Queens University of Charlotte, a freshly minted Division I program, Franklin & Marshall, and will have four conference dual meets on the road. This will be Zach Sheaffer's second season at the helm of Presbyterian's wrestling program, coming off a 1-9 dual meet record last season, securing a win over NAIA's Truett McConnell University (37-7).
Virginia Military Institute
The Keydets are slated to host 10 dual meets at Cormack Hall, and will be on the road for 12 dual meets and tournaments. A tradition that kicked off the season is The Barracks Brawl, VMI's annual intrasquad scrimmage; and a Brawl it was. The Black team defeated the Red team 19-18 by tiebreaker criteria. One of the ten home duals of the season will host conference rival, The Citadel. Last season VMI fell to The Citadel, 32-5; posting wins from Freddy Junko, (Jr, 141) and Tyler Mousaw (Jr, 197). Another dual meet match-up to watch is the Keydets' season finale at home, wresting against Queens University of Charlotte. This will be the first time the Keydets meet the Royals in Queens' debut DI wrestling season. Coach Gibson and company will head to Iowa City for the inaugural Soldier Salute, hosted at Xtream Arena in December 2022. There will be men's and women's open divisions, with 100% of proceeds split between the United Service Organization (USO) and funds that are to aid in the growth of women's wrestling.
And before the season can wrap up, the Southern Conference Championship will be held yet again in Boone, North Carolina on March 4, 2023. Then we're off to Tulsa, Oklahoma for the NCAA Tournament. So break out your wrestling-watching boots and get ready for a rootin' tootin' good time this season!