Photo by Shane Truskolaski, UVU Athletics
The wrestling Wolverines of Utah Valley have already set a school record for the most wrestlers sent to nationals with four this season.
Jade Rauser (125 pounds) Avery Garner (141), Abner Cook (165) and Adam Fager (285) are hoping to make a national impact for the program.
These grapplers have proved themselves throughout the years and look to validate the success they have had. Rauser and Fager are returning to the big stage, while Garner and Cook are competing for the first time on that level as seniors.
“Just excited to get out there,” head coach Greg Williams said. “We’ve got two guys that have been there, and two that are seniors and it’s their first time going. Just getting there is an honor and we are hoping to get some wins and get some kids on the podium. This is what we work for and it’s the payoff.”
The road to Oklahoma City – where the NCAA Championships take place March 20-22 – was paved with hard work and some luck for these wrestlers. Garner, a former walk-on, won his weight class in the conference tournament March 8, while Cook’s weight permitted three wrestlers to go nationals.
A gutsy call from Williams had Cook sit out against North Dakota State’ top wrestler, Steven Monk. Cook forfeited the match and wrestled for third, which he won.
“I’m really proud of Avery and Abner,” Williams said. “It’s pretty special – both seniors – and it’s their last year and they have worked so hard. They really wanted it.”
Fager and Rauser both got in by the graces of the wrestling gods. Rauser had lost in the semifinals of the conference tournament and finished third. If Air Force’s Josh Martinez lost to Wyoming’s Tyler Cox, then Rauser would’ve faced Martinez in a true second-place match with the winner going to nationals. Martinez got injured and withdrew from the tournament, giving Rauser the bid.
“I’m really excited,” Rauser said. “I’m definitely going to make my mark this year. I know what to expect. I’m just going to go out there and give it my all. I’m going out there as an underdog and they are going to think I’m just some chump, and I’m going to do my thing.”
Fager had rankings on his side as the heavyweight lost in the finals, but had a RPI high enough to give him a bid to nationals and another chance at becoming an All-American.
“I already have a feel of what the tournament’s going to be like,” Fager said. “I can now go and focus on my higher goal of becoming an All-American. I feel that I have a better route to accomplish that goal.”
In looking back at how his conference tournament went, Fager summed up his experience by saying he’s determined to complete his goal this year and reach the podium.
“It made me humble,” Fager explained. “And when you’re humble, you’re more dangerous.”
All four of the wrestlers have the mindset and goal of becoming an All-American. It is in fact, one of the highest honors a wrestler can achieve in the sport. To be an All-American, you have to be in the top eight of your weight class nationally, and you carry that honor with you for the rest of your life. Utah Valley only has one: Ben Kjar (125) in 2011.
All four wrestlers have the potential to reach that status. All four have had success throughout their careers, each winning a state championship in high school.
Although that necessarily doesn’t equate to championships in college, they know what success feels like and what it’s like to be the best. That drive and desire to reach their goal will be on display starting Thursday at the NCAA Wrestling Championships in Oklahoma City.