University of Tennessee at Chattanooga junior Drew Nicholson won the Southern Conference title at 165 pounds and was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler at the event in Boone, N.C., tonight. Nicholson was one of four Mocs to place in the event, leading UTC to a third-place finish in the tournament.
Nicholson, the No. 3 seed at 165, opened with an 8-4 decision over VMI’s Jon Hoover. He then scored a big upset over No. 25 RJ Mosley of Gardner-Webb. Nicholson was 0-3 against Mosley all-time, including a 12-4 major decision loss in the dual during the regular season.
Nicholson kept control of the match throughout and used a second period takedown to score a 3-2 win and advance to the finals. There he faced the No. 4 seed, The Citadel’s Dazjon Casto. Casto had upset the SoCon Wrestler of the Year and top-seed, Appalachian State’s Will Formato, in his semifinal.
Nicholson had faced Casto five times over the last three seasons. He had three wins in the three dual matches but lost to Casto at the SoCon Tournament each of the last two years. All previous five meetings were decisions with just a three-point difference in the total scoring in favor of Casto (31-28).
The finals opened with a scoreless first period. Nicholson chose bottom in the second and finished the period with a 1-0 lead after an early escape. Casto chose down to start the third and escaped to tie. A stalling calling on Nicholson early in the third made it interesting the rest of the way.
Nicholson went up 3-1 with takedown with 37 seconds left and fought off Casto to claim his first career SoCon Title and punch his ticket to the NCAA Championships. He is the ninth Moc to win at 165 pounds. The last to do it was Corey Mock in 2018.
“Last year he went 0-2 at the tournament,” stated head coach Kyle Ruschell when asked about Nicholson’s performance. “He said that he was willing to do whatever it takes to get it done. Over the summer, through COVID, he kept working. He dedicated himself to doing all of the rights things and hard work pays off.”
Nicholson is the 22nd Moc to take home SoCon Tournament MVP honors since UTC joined the league in 1978. He is the first to bring that individual award home since Kamaal Shakur in 2016.
“I haven’t had much luck at this tournament the other two times I have been here,” added Nicholson. “I wanted this and I put in the work to get it. I just feel blessed to be able to compete and I am glad it worked out.”
The Mocs finished third in the team race with 64 points, trailing Campbell (92) and Appalachian State (87). Other Mocs who placed at the event include senior Fabian Gutierrez (3rd at 125), junior Matthew Waddell (2nd at 184) and freshman Logan Andrew (2nd at 197).
Waddell, the three-seed at 184, opened with a pin over The Citadel’s Kyle Kretzer and advanced to the finals with a 5-2 decision against second-seeded Jha’quan Anderson of Gardner-Webb. In the finals, he faced Campbell’s No. 20 Caleb Hopkins, who had beaten him 4-3 in the regular season dual.
Waddell led 2-1 after the first period, despite giving up a penalty point just before the horn. The score was tied 2-2 when Waddell has hit with another penalty in the second. Hopkins went down in the third and escaped for a 3-2 lead. A takedown with just over a minute left pushed his lead to 5-2, which was the final score. Waddell earned an automatic bid to the NCAA’s with his second place finish for the second year in a row.
Andrew entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed at 197, opening with a pin against The Citadel’s Ben Stemmet. He then beat second-seeded Tyler Mousaw of VMI 8-4 to advance to the finals.
There he faced top-seeded Chris Kober of Campbell. Kober scored a 4-3 win over Andrew in the regular season dual. Tonight they battled to a 1-1 tie in the third period. Andrew gave up a takedown late in the final period to lose 3-1.
UTC’s No. 1 seed at 141 pounds, junior Franco Valdes, suffered an injury in practice on Saturday and aggravated it during the consolation rounds, forcing him to withdraw. Junior Colton Landers (133), freshman Weston Wichman (157) and sophomore Carial Tarter (174) all advanced to the consolation finals.
Up next for the Mocs is the NCAA Championship on March 18-20 in St. Louis, Mo.