It is nearly 2,000 miles from Penn State University to Utah Valley University. To reach UVU by car would take one day, eight hours; to walk would be nearly a month. One would have to cross 8 states before reaching Orem.
Yet, the Nittany Lions of Penn State decided to make the trip (by airplane) to face the Wolverines of Utah Valley in a wrestling duel.
Considering the distance between the two universities as well as the fact that Penn State is the defending champion, it is a wonder to some why they would make the effort to face a not-as-well known team in Utah.
Utah native and Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson says it is more than just about visiting family and spending time with them.
“Utah Valley wrestled well,” Sanderson said. “You’ve got to give them credit for what they’re doing out there. It was a great atmosphere. They’re building their program. Their kids all wrestle hard and that’s what we want.”
UVU had a plenty of opportunities to show their building program on big stages this year. Earlier in the season, they faced four nationally ranked teams (No. 8 Illinois, No. 12 Oklahoma, No. 12 Wyoming and No. 13 Ohio State).
Although they lost those duels, they were recognized on a wider scale. Utah Valley head coach Greg Williams believes this kind of recognition will continue to help their talent learn and grow.
“Anytime you can have that talent (Penn State) come into Utah Valley so that the fans can be involved and see that level of wrestling, that’s where we expect to be,” Williams said. “The way our guys need to learn is to get out of matches like that, see what it is that we’re not good at yet, where guys are beating us, and then go back in the room and get repetitions with it until those repetitions relate to success on the mat against the competition.”
The program at Utah Valley continues to grow and expand as many students come because of its national recognition. No. 20 Josh Wilson continues to have an impressive year in his weight class of 149 lbs.
While he is a junior, this Utah Valley team is flooded with freshmen trying to make an impact in their class. As the program continues to grow, Williams believes this could be a team to not overlook.
“I believe we can be a ranked team and I believe we can continue to climb,” Williams said. “I think we have the talent to do that.”
Utah Valley will face off against the Panthers of Northern Iowa in the NCAA Western Regionals on March 5, with Josh Wilson hoping to qualify for nationals.
By Alex Rivera