NCAA Championships Start Thursday

Three Chattanooga Mocs are in Tulsa, Okla., for the 2023 NCAA Wrestling Championships. The event begins Thursday morning and runs through Saturday evening. The trio of Brayden Palmer, Rocky Jordan and Matthew Waddell look to etch their names in program history.

They are Nos. 200-202 as Mocs qualifying for the national championships. It’s the 46th time in 46 years as a DI program being represented at the event, 39th with three or more including 13 in a row.

“I’ve always recognized the situation that they’re in,” Coach Kyle Ruschell began. “This is the national tournament, it’s a big deal, but it doesn’t have to be when you’re inside the match. They’ve done this before. So don’t let the moment get bigger than, you know, just the 7-minute match when you’re in it.”

So with three in the tournament, what are their keys?

“Matt’s been in the lineup for four years and found a way to get to the national tournament in every one,” Ruschell continued. “That’s not an easy feat to do. He’s a guy that we could always rely on. It’s his last tournament, probably the last time he’s going to strap on shoes for a long time unless he coaches, but enjoy it. Go out there wrestle your hardest, leave it out on the mat, and you can be satisfied.

“The other two guys obviously have a chance to come back next year. Soak in the moments, but don’t think there’s another year. You never know what’s going to happen. So, take advantage of the opportunity that they have right now.”

Jordan is the highest seed at No. 10. That’s the best for the Mocs since 197 Scottie Boykin ‘18 came in at the same number in 2018. It’s the 19th top 10 seed in the school’s DI history (since 1977-78).

Palmer comes in next at No. 17 with Waddell at No. 30. The top eight finishers at each weight class earn All-America status. It’s something Ruschell remembers well as a 4-time qualifier and 2-time All-American.

“Yeah, I mean the podium…it’s a huge deal,” Ruschell smiled. “Stepping on that podium, we have a little bit of self-pride but also pride towards the institution that got you there, and all the people that helped you along the way. I just remember when I was going through those moments whether I lost early or was fighting through the back side, I knew I could tell myself I could beat anybody in seven minutes if I wrestled my style, right?

“And so that gave me a little bit of confidence that I needed when I stepped on the mat. Our guys should feel the same way now. Don’t be tentative, go lock in for seven minutes. I try to give those guys those little bits but ultimately, it’s how they talk to themselves in between rounds or as the round comes up. Just kind of be positive, be a little loose, but then when that whistle blows, just get back to your training.”

The early sessions each day broadcast on ESPNU, while later in the day, it shifts to ESPN.