You could see it coming when the schedules hit the Internet. The last 3 weekends of December set up as a major step on the SoCons ladder climb to greater national prominence. Sure, the known conference stars have pretty much performed as expected. App. St. AA 149lb Jonathan Millner has two Tournament finals and a title in the first month of competition. The Citadels Trio of Terror, 165lb Selwyn Porter, 157lb Dazjon Casto, and 285lb Mike McAleavey are 27-10 with multiple podium placements between them. Campbell super seniors 149lb Josh Heil, 197lb Chris Kober, and young stud hvt. Taye Ghadiali are a combined 19-3 in limited action. As much as these individuals and teams have experienced success positives have been scarcer than perhaps anticipated for the SoCon. Outside looking in you might be wondering what about perennial conference power and column fav. UTC? Well, the Mocs have been the closest thing to M.I.A. that a wrestling team can be and still have a record. Again, a small part of that is by schedule design. However, it can’t be overlooked that multiple starters have not yet wrestled this season. SoCon Champ 165lb Drew Nicholson and 197lb NCAA qualifier Logan Andrew haven’t hit the mats yet. Few matches and fewer wins mark early efforts from returning starters Colton Landers, Franco Valdes, Weston Wichman, Carial Tartar, Grayson Walthall, and 2X NCAA qualifier Matthew Waddell. 125lb star Fabian Gutierrez has wrestled twice, won twice, and….? This columns been assured @faybeein_g and the Mocs are ready for a weekend jaunt to Illinois to face former conference foe SIUE and BIG 10 power Illinois. Win both or split and the Mocs will come home better off. Coach Kyle Ruschell and staff coordinated a quick season peek followed by a long break for a training cycle. This weekend in Illinois and a December 20th road trip to West Virginia for a tri meet with the Mountaineers and Cleveland State will both be stern tests. Hard to match the Mocs D1 opponents records so far this season, though. Clarion and Rutgers are a combined 13-1. Also not shying away from tough opening weeks Daniel Elliotts Gardner Webb Runnin Bulldogs hit a brick wall in Raleigh recently in a loss to mighty NC State. That AFTER a showdown with powerhouse Virginia Tech. The bunch from Boiling Springs have a gruesome four duals in nine days run starting with Michigan State the 11th and finishing on the 19th in a tri meet featuring Campbell, George Mason, and Ohio. Even though they’re all home matches for Gardner-Webb, that’s still worth a YO. Presbyterian, under new Coach Zach Shaeffer, has gone the complete opposite route. In tuning up the team for their appearance at the end of the month Midlands Tournament the Blue Hose have scheduled exactly nothing. This seems to have as much to do with Shaeffers late appointment as anything else. This weeks strong win over Truett-McConnell will be the only action the men see before the end of December. However, the powerhouse Presbyterian women’s team had six athletes go undefeated in a round robin with St. Andrew’s and Life University. The women will be front and center at months end as the Midlands, Americas oldest major D1 tournament, holds its first ever women’s event. There’s a first coming for Andy Lausiers Davidson Wildcats as well, though it may have to wait after the 1st of the year. Underdogs in every dual so far this season, Davidson came within 2 points of an upset over UTC. They picked up six podium spots so far this season at a pair of tournaments. They battled to the wire in half their matches against BIG 12 power West Virginia. A dual with new wrestling bestie George Mason University on the 19th probably isn’t the best chance for Davidson to get off the schnide. What progress they’ve made will be highlighted at the Scuffle and in the conference dual season after the 1st of the year. It’s been duals a’plenty for Ned Shucks Bellarmine crew here in year two, SoCon style for the Knights. Unfortunately, a season opening upset win over SIUE put Bellarmines progress on everybody’s radar. That, combined with a brutal schedule, has kept the Knights victory total in check, though not their growth. Pushing the pace, 2nd year Head Coach Shuck is sending some athletes to the Cleveland State Open while the starters will host Coach Joel Greenlees Ohio Bobcats, same day this Saturday. Don’t expect a Knights dual meet win but do plan on seeing both tournament progress and a strong home mat effort. THE big test of the seasons first half may come in the home meet with SoCon power App State on the 19th. Bellarmine will know exactly where they belong in the SoCon pecking order after that match. As to the Mountaineers, they have a 6 day stretch that would test the capacities of any team in the country. This Sunday John Mark Bentleys squad hosts NC State. At least half the matches will feature ranked wrestler versus ranked wrestler showdowns. Look for an All American war at 149 with App States Johnathan Millner matching up with NC States Tariq “the Freak” Wilson. Then on Friday the 17th it’s North Carolina Wars part two as Coleman Scott’s UNC Tar Heels come to Boone. Both App State and Campbell, conference front runners for three years straight, feature deep rosters not yet fully settled at every weight. The Mountaineers will look to the Southern Scuffle to help with final roster adjustments while Campbell heads to the Midlands. Scotti Sentes Camels are ironing out several weights, most notably 125 where Campbell has 3 Dl starters rostered with a combined 15-6 record and three NCAA trips between them. There’s that Gardner-Webb hosted tri meet with Ohio on the 19th before the Midlands trip, though. Looks like a couple of Camels wins for the road. VMI, on the other hand, plays host to end the holiday wrestling season, welcoming in West Virginia this Sunday. The Keydets best news so far in a 1-1 season has been the return of stud 197lb Tyler Mousaw, dinged up in the teams Wrestle-Offs preseason. VMI racked up 14 tournament spots between the Southeast Open and the Journeymen Classic. The big tourney news, though was Mousaws 4th place finish and Zach Browns 6th at the Navy Classic, a very tough 13 team throwdown. Don’t count the Keydets out in the match with the Mountaineers, West Virginia style. Coach Jim Gibsons crew may just steal a win from the BIG 12 bunch.
So that’s a quick look at the SoCons 1st half, and here’s freely admitted hope for even more in 2022.
See you sometime soon!