It certainly has been a tough road for wrestlers but it has definitely been a drastic change from last year’s team to what has been a very successful season so far this year.
Utah Valley hosted its first home conference meet against South Dakota State this year. Last year UVSC took a brutal beating 34-6 against South Dakota but some things changed since then.
"We feel like one of the statements we could make by this year was we wanted to be able to beat them," said second-year head coach Greg Williams.
They certainly made that statement a couple weeks ago with a 39-4 victory over South Dakota. "And that’s with seven of our guys only freshman or sophomores," he said, "we have three seniors this year."
Among some of the young players is freshman Ben Kjar from Centerville, Utah, who’s become a team leader. He has had an interesting route to get here but eventually ended up at Utah Valley after wrestling for Oklahoma’s international team. Not only has been overcome the difficulties that most sports athletes face but a disease has left him with uniqe challenges to overcome.
"Ben has had a disease that he has had several operations on his head," says coach Williams. They had to pull out his cheek because of an infection. He lived without a cheek for almost five months before they were able to operate and replace it.
"It was like a reconstruction of my face," Kjar said.
Most of the operations were taken care of before he served a full-time, Spanish-speaking mission to Tuscon, Arizona.
"I have just prayed a lot," Kjar said.
Although overcome with adversity Kjar has become a solid leader and friend to Williams and his team.
"I love working with Greg," he said about his coach, who first met him through a club called Elite Wrestling put on by Williams. "He has helped me with technique and mentality of the sport, and my relationship has been built over the years that I trust him as my coach."
As for leading his team, "It’s been great," he said. "I have always wanted to be a part of something big, and it’s great to be in a program that is soaring."
Kjar is now 29-8 in the 125-pound weight division.
Along with Marc Fenwick and Sam Allen, Kjar has the ability to run practices and have a say in where the team needs to be.
"He turns the practices over to us because we are the ones who know how our bodies feel and what we need to work on," Kjar said. "We have a lot of opportunities to make decisions for the team."
Kjar has become a crowd favorite. "He is very exciting to watch," Williams said. "He is very kind, outgoing and mean on the mat but nice off the mat, and people look to him for the tone and attitude of the team."
The team has set some goals and has high hopes for the remainder of the conference meets. The team hasn’t let up either. "They are so hard working," Williams said, "It’s a family and we are just really excited about where it’s going."
Utah Valley will host Air Force and North Dakota State later on this month.