Photo by Gabi Campbell
Utah Valley wrestling overcame Boise State for the third straight time at home in a 23-18 comeback at the PE building Feb. 1.
“We knew there were going to be a lot of close matches tonight,” UVU head coach Greg Williams said. “We didn’t expect to lose a couple of the matches that we wound up dropping, but I was very pleased with how our final three guys wrestled. Jade [Rauser] and Chasen [Tolbert] gave us the spark that we needed and Avery [Garner] really capped it off for us.”
The match started with the 149-pound class, and the visiting Broncos jumped to an early 12-0 lead after defeating the Wolverines in the first four matches of the dual.
Nearly 2,000 fans were on hand to watch the grapplers, and the team looked like it was going to bow out if Boise would’ve won another match.
However, the Wolverines knew that they could come back. Never losing sight of what could be accomplished, their character, which Williams knew his team possessed, was shown.
Senior 174-pound wrestler Monte Schmalhaus got things going for the Wolverines. Schmalhaus came out aggressively to help his team get on the scoreboard after the 12-0 deficit that they had found themselves in. Schmalhaus dominated his opponent and won in a major decision, 9-0.
The Wolverines strung out a few more victories to bring themselves back into the dual. Wins from Ethan Smith (184 pounds) and sophomore standout Derek Thomas (197 pounds) pulled away with victories to cut the lead to two, trailing 12-10.
Then came some of the same problems that have been preventing the Wolverines from victory this season; the injury bug had reared its ugly head as No. 13 heavyweight Adam Fager sat out, forcing freshman Richard Larsen to face Boise’s No. 6 J.T. Felix.
Larsen showed a lot heart, but it wasn’t enough as the Felix pinned him in the first period to widen the gap between the teams to 18-10. Then the Wolverines caught fire.
Rauser (125 pounds) made his long awaited return to the mat. He lost his ranking prior to the match, having sat out weeks with injury that didn’t allow him to be quite ready to wrestle again. The crowd was hungry for another Rauser match and cheered him onto the mat.
Rauser fed off that energy and came out of the gates with quickness and passion. Takedowns and near-falls were happening quite regularly for the sophomore, who also ended up winning in a major decision, 10-1, over his opponent, and the Wolverines crept closer to the lead, now down 18-14.
Rauser didn’t look rusty in his match and was really excited to be back out there.
“It felt really, really good,” he explained. “I was really excited to get back on the mat. The crowd was really good, and it was amazing to have them all cheering and be in the match.”
To stop the Broncos from sealing their victory, Tolbert (133) continued to show his improvement and also fed off the crowd. He came out quick and wanted a big victory for his team. Tolbert took down his opponent and pinned him in 49 seconds to give the Wolverines the lead, 20-18, with the fans loudly giving the team support heading into the final match.
Garner (141 pounds), a senior, seemed determined to hold the win for Utah Valley. The odds didn’t seem to be in his favor as he faced Brian Owen, a three-time NCAA tournament placer. The crowd continued to back the team and Garner as he defeated his opponent 6-3, sealing a 23-18 victory for the Wolverines.
The win for Garner helped him grab Wrestler of the Week honors in the Western Wrestling Conference.
“We dealt with some adversity tonight with Adam Fager being out with an injury, but Derek Thomas really came through for us with his overtime victory,” Williams added. “I’m proud of this team. This team has done of nice job of being able to battle through a number of misfortunes and keep their chins up.”
The Wolverines will continue to prepare and look to win as conference action begins Feb. 6 in the PE building.