DES MOINES, Iowa (WRCB) -- The start of March Madness has Heath Eslinger smiling, only the championship brackets he cares about have nothing to do with basketball.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach is taking five wrestlers to the NCAA Championships this week, and expectations are high after a runaway win at the Southern Conference tournament two weeks ago.
"We've had a lot of success within our conference and we want to continue that, but the truth of the matter is that the real measuring success for success in this sport is what you do at the national tournament," Eslinger said. "We haven't had an all-American since 2008. It's super tough, but I think we have five guys who have a legitimate chance of not just being there, but being really far up the ranks there come Saturday."
Cody Cleveland was the Mocs' last all-American, finishing eighth back in 2008.
It's been a long road back to the podium for UTC, but Eslinger believes his group of Nick Soto, Dean Pavlou, Alex Hudson, Josh Condon and Niko Brown will produce a few top-eight finishes.
He wouldn't be surprised to see a couple finalists as well.
"I think our guys know they belong there. We don't have to preach to them about being the underdog," Eslinger said. "Now they just have to go there and win matches. If we carry over the momentum we've built up the last few weeks, good things are going to happen."
Four of the five have previous NCAA Championships experience.
Pavlou, a former Bradley Central star, is making his third trip to Des Moines, while Brown, Condon and Soto are all making their second.
Hudson is facing the No. 5 at 149 pounds, while Soto (No. 12 at 125) and Brown (No. 9 at 197) will also open against top-15 seeds. Still, Eslinger believes his guys aren't intimidated.
"I think we're the tough draws," Eslinger said. "These kids didn't get on this plane to lose. We're going to be ready to compete."
The NCAA Championships kick off at noon Thursday. Quarterfinal and semifinal matches will be held Friday, with champions being crowned Saturday night at Wells Fargo Arena.
Can't find what you're looking for?