Hope soars high as the wrestling Wolverines of Utah Valley host the WWC tournament and try to punch as many tickets to the national stage on March 8.
This is the first time that the school will host the tournament, and the team is excited to have the opportunity to take its skills to the next level.
Much like the NCAA basketball tournament in March, the wrestlers have a chance to automatically qualify for the national tournament that will be held in Oklahoma City March 20-22. Last season, Utah Valley sent three wrestlers to nationals. Jade Rauser (125 pounds) and Adam Fager (heavyweight) look to make their mark again.
The team is finally at full strength going into the final part of the season. Head coach Greg Williams has always had faith in his team to be the athletes he knew they were and is hoping that the team will come together in the most important point of the season to win the respective weight classes.
“Obviously we want all the guys performing at the best of their abilities,” Williams explained. “Some case kids are going to have to wrestle the best they have all year to get there. We have several guys on our team that if they wrestle well and depending how many spots we get, we can send more. We will have all of our starters wrestle there and that’s something that hasn’t happened all year.”
Rauser has had a battle all season with injury. This tournament has been the key factor to sitting him out of some matches this season so that he could prepare himself for a shot at taking his weight class. Rauser, an explosive wrestler, is hopeful and ready to wrestle well.
“I’m just looking forward to wrestling,” Rauser said. “I haven’t wrestled that much this season. I have had like eight matches this season and I just want to get out there.”
Chasen Tolbert (133 pounds) has been a standout this season. In the conference dual portion of the season, Tolbert only dropped one match – against Greg Rinker of Air Force. Tolbert has aspirations of becoming a national champion and winning his weight class would give him a crack at it, as he should be seeded well in the tournament.
“I feel like I’m ready and that the coaches have prepared us,” Tolbert said. “We are peaking at the right moment in the season to perform our best and I’m excited for it.”
Fager, with his fresh mustache of intimidation, has not wrestled a single match in the conference dual portion of the schedule. Fager suffered a concussion and did not participate in the team duals. Some would think that is the worst thing possible heading into such a crucial tournament. Fager placed fourth at the prestigious Cliff Keen Invitational and seventh at the Midlands Championships. Not to mention he’s the defending champion of the tournament. Even if he were to get upset in the tournament, his RPI ranking is high enough that he should get an at-large bid.
The entire roster has the potential to make it to nationals, Williams has preached his confidence in his team all year. He has no reason not to believe the Wolverines have an advantage of staying home and wrestling well in their own building.
“Being at home always helps,” Williams said. “Our record is good here. We’ve had a lot of good teams come out here and our guys have wrestled well here. I hope that it’s a huge advantage. I hope we will be ready and that sleeping your own bed will help.”
Even for the wrestlers it’s a big deal to stay home and have friends and family come and see them wrestle, when they may have not been able to.
“I think it gives us big advantage, it’s just like a home dual,” Rauser said. “I’m hoping there’s going to be a huge crowd. I will have my family here and that’s a big deal because it’s a lot closer for my family. I’ll also have some friends from high school come and it will be great to have that support.”
“It’s really exciting, it will be one of the first times that my family will all be here to come watch,” Fager said. “There’s a lot of high school wrestlers that I coach as well and that will be exciting.”
The Wolverines should bode well in the tournament in the friendly confines of the UCCU Center and will challenge the school record for wrestlers sent for nationals when the WWC tournament starts at noon Saturday.