CHATTANOOGA (UTC/WRCB) -- With the best of the best in Chattanooga to ring in the new year, the Mat Mocs proved they belonged with a surprising top-ten finish Monday night at the 2012 Southern Scuffle at McKenzie Arena.
True freshman Nick Soto finished second at 133 pounds to lead five grapplers with top-eight finishes for UTC, which was hosting the prestigious event for the first time. The Mocs finished seventh overall in a 22-team field that featured eight of the top 15 teams in the national rankings.
Defending national champ Penn State claimed the team title with 191.5 points and crowned four individual champs. Minnesota finished second at 177.5, followed by Missouri (136), Cornell (130) and Oregon State (103).
UTC's 79 points were just three behind No. 21 Virginia. Chattanooga finished ahead nine other teams ranked in the top-54, including No. 15 Virginia Tech and No. 25 Hofstra.
Soto, a true freshman from Spring Hill, Fla., was the obvious star of the tournament for the Mocs. He stunned No. 5 and top-seeded David Thorn of Minnesota with a 5-1 double overtime victory in the morning semifinals to bring the crowd of 2,168 to their feet. It marked Soto's second win in the last two weeks over an opponent ranked in the top-five nationally.
His run finally ended in the 133-pound finals Monday night with a 7-2 loss to Thorn's Minnesota teammate, Christop Dardenas.
"I am definitely going to build on that loss," stated Soto. "Obviously there are still holes in my game. I need to work even harder now in practice. I proved that I can wrestle with the best guys. I have proved it to myself, now I just have to fill in the gaps and get back to the grind."
The Mocs started the day in eighth place and quickly moved up the charts with four wins in four consolation matches. Junior Niko Brown capped the early streak with his 9-7 victory over Cornell's Jace Bennett at 197.
Former Baylor School star Dan Waddell, Brandon Wright, and former Bradley Central standout Dean Pavlou also won at 157, 165 and 149, respectively, to start the day. With Soto in the main draw semifinals, that ensured five Chattanooga wrestlers would place in the event.
Pavlou kept the momentum going with a 7-5 upset over Cornell's 18th-ranked Craig Eifert in the backdraw quarters. Pavlou would go on to finish in sixth place at 149.
Waddell also continued to advance in the 157 bracket, topping Virginia's Matt Stephens 3-2 in the consolation quarters. He advanced to the third place match with a 3-2 win over Cornell's James Vollrath in double-overtime. Waddell would finish fourth overall.
Wright dropped his final two matches but placed eighth at 165. Brown split his final two outings for a seventh place showing at 197.
"Our goal was to have multiple placers," continued Eslinger. "We had some things go our way and that was part of it. Sometimes they don't go our way. Dan getting into the medal rounds was big and he needs to get on a roll. Brandon as well. Dean Pavlou had a great tournament and he is not even our starter. Niko Brown had a great tournament and he needs to get better.
"Again, it is a reflection of what they are doing in practice."
Penn State's David Taylor earned the Most Outstanding Wrestler Award while Ohio's Ryan Garringer was the Gregorian Award winner for the most falls in the least amount of time.
There is no rest for the weary as the Mocs are right back on the mat this weekend. UTC hosts Cleveland State in a dual meet on Sunday, Jan. 8. Action begins at 2:00 p.m. (E.S.T.) in Maclellan Gym.
2012 Southern Scuffle - Final Team Standings
1. Penn State - 191.5
2. Minnesota - 177.5
3. Missouri - 136.0
4. Cornell - 130.0
5. Oregon State - 103.0
6. Virginia - 82.0
7. Chattanooga - 79.0
8. Appalachian State - 63.5
9. Hofstra - 58.0
10. Ohio - 57.0
11. Navy - 49.5
12. North Carolina - 49.0
13. Indiana - 41.0
14. North Carolina State - 35.0
15. Old Dominion - 33.5
16. The Citadel - 25.0
17. Army - 22.5
18. Campbell - 21.5
19. Duke - 19.0
20. Cleveland State - 15.0
21. Virginia Tech - 13.5
22. Gardner Webb - 0.0