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Champs of the mat

Champs of the mat

A preview of UVU wrestling

Adam Cichoski | Staff Writer | @AdamCichoski

Photos courtesy of Preston Yardley & Gabi Campbell

It is a new year and a great opportunity for the Utah Valley University wrestling season.  In 2015-16, the Wolverines will be competing in the Big 12 Conference and will do so with a group that is experienced.  They return 3-time national qualifier Jade Rauser as well as Chasen Tolbert, who qualified for nationals last season.  They also return Derek Thomas at 189 pounds and Jordan Karst at the heavyweight position, who was about 30 seconds away from going to nationals as a freshman. UVU also returns Matthew Ontiveros, Dustin Dennison, Koleton Hardy, Trevor Willson, Ross Taylor, and Dalton Harmon from a year ago.

“We have a great returning class. There are two returning national qualifiers,” UVU head coach Greg Williams said. “We have other guys returning who have improved a lot this offseason. We’re hoping that instead of two guys going to nationals, that we have more this year.”

In their first season as members of the Big 12 Conference, the Wolverines don’t have any scheduled matches against Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State or West Virginia.  Instead they will compete with other members of the former Western Wrestling Conference in order to get to the Big 12 Championships in Madison Square Garden in March.

“I’m looking forward to this season,” Tolbert said. “I’ve seen a lot of improvements and I know the rest of the team has too. Being part of the Big 12, we want to do well at the tournament. I think if everyone stays healthy we’ll have a good shot.”

In conference they will face South Dakota State, North Dakota State and Grand Canyon in Orem and will travel to Air Force, Wyoming, Northern Colorado, and Wyoming. It won’t be an easy run and Williams knows that.

If you get on the podium you’re competitive at that level. I do think we have some guys that are capable,” Williams said.  “The Big 12 is about as tough as they come. Every team in the Big 12 is ranked in the top 20. Oklahoma State is ranked No. 1 in the whole country, They are a Big 12 opponent that we’d be seeing in the conference championship. There are some good teams in that conference and it will be a difficult task. Do I feel like we have some wrestlers who can do it? Yes, I do.”

They will also face 11th-ranked Illinois at the Eastern Michigan Duals and then travel to Corvallis, Ore. where they will take on 19th-ranked Oregon State and 18th-ranked Rutgers.

While the competition in the Big 12 and the overall schedule for the UVU wrestling team looks intimidating, Williams believes it is a good sign for the school and where the program is heading. 

“It raises the bar,” Williams said. “It raises the bar for the athletic department, and it raises the bar for our wrestling team. The Big 12 has got the reputation behind it. In this conference, all their guys are that good. That helps with recruiting. We don’t expect to be at the bottom of the conference, we think we’re going to surprise a lot of people in the near future.”

After just missing out on nationals as a junior, Thomas is confident heading into his senior season.

“It’s going to be exciting to see how some of the young guys are going to do this year,” Thomas said. ”I think we’re going to be a lot tougher this year and we’re only going to get tougher and tougher. Our coaches here are top notch. I expect the best season out of myself that I can have. The team has high goals, but if we all do our best we’ll be able to qualify a lot of guys for nationals.”

Adam Cichoski

Adam Cichoski

My name is Adam Cichoski, I'm a junior at UVU studying Journalism. Sports is my passion, especially football. I'm originally from Las Vegas, Nevada. My plan after school is to pursue a job in sports journalism.

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