Mat Mocs ready for big-stage against No. 2 Iowa - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Mat Mocs ready for big-stage against No. 2 Iowa

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Stiff competition is nothing new for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling program.

The Mocs have competed in NCAA Tournaments. They've hosted some of the nation's best in the Southern Scuffle, and welcomed the likes of Missouri, Ohio State and Cornell into the cozy confines of Maclellan Gymnasium.

But never before have they hosted the biggest name in the sport.

"A lot of people have said it's like Kentucky coming to play us in basketball or Alabama coming to play us in football," said UTC head coach Heath Eslinger. "The University of Iowa has won 23 national titles. They're tradition speaks for itself, and by the numbers, it's richer than the (John) Wooden era at UCLA or (Bear) Bryant era at Alabama."

Second-ranked Iowa, considered the pinnacle program of college wrestling, will be in the Scenic City this Friday to square off with Virginia at 5 p.m. ET and the host Mat Mocs at 7 p.m. ET.

"They ARE wrestling," said reigning SoCon Wrestler of the Week Niko Brown. "For them to come down here, that's an awesome opportunity for us."

The opportunity, which Eslinger is touting as the biggest home dual in UTC history, was an easier get than one would think.

"Everybody says great job," Eslinger shrugged. "All I did was call them."

It helps to have a few connections in the wrestling world, including current Iowa assistant and former Chattanooga head coach Terry Brands.

Of course, the Mat Mocs have also gathered plenty of clout in the national ranks with plenty of tradition of their own, not to mention a reputation for having one of the best dual meet atmospheres in the country.

"This will be one of the top five attended dual meets in the country this year," Eslinger said. "That's awesome to say we hosted one of the top duals in the country."

Added 141-pounder Dean Pavlou: "It's going to be a huge crowd. I'd say the only competition I've ever been in bigger than this is the NCAA Tournament."

Of course, the difference Friday will be a few more people clad in blue and gold.

"They're coming to our house. We get our fans to come out and they want to see us knock off the best team in the country," Brown said.

The Mocs plan is to do just that.

While Eslinger admits Iowa's visit is a reward for UTC's loyal fans, he's making sure it's much more than that for his grapplers.

"We didn't bring them here to watch them wrestle. We brought them here to wrestle them, so I know our guys are ready," he said.

The Hawkeyes boast six wrestlers ranked in the top 15 in the country, while the Mocs have only seventh-ranked 125-pounder Nick Soto in the individual rankings.

UTC has knocked off just two of the thirteen ranked teams that have come to Chattanooga over the past 16 years, but one of those two was the last one to visit. The Mocs upset No. 12 Stanford 22-15 in December 2011.

They also own a win over ninth-ranked Ohio State from 2007, but a victory over Iowa would leave the rest in the dust.

"Were you here Friday when (UTC women's basketball) beat the Lady Vols? Cube that. Times ten," Eslinger said when asked what it would mean to beat the Hawkeyes. "You ever read about David and Goliath? This might be the next one."

Hopefully the Mocs will have their slingshots ready.

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