Photo by Mykah Heaton
After graduating a handful of starters from last year, the wrestling program entered the season with only one senior on the roster and question marks across the board. However, despite lacking the experience of past teams, the wrestlers on this year’s squad had lofty expectations for themselves. At the conclusion of the regular season on Feb. 11, four wrestlers found themselves nationally ranked in the RPI top 35.
Redshirt freshman Tanner Orndorff (197 pounds) is ranked No. 17 in his class, while fellow redshirt freshman Kimball Bastian (174 pounds) finds himself ranked No. 21. Additionally, juniors Dustin Dennison (heavyweight) and Jarod Maynes (133 pounds) come in at No. 18 and No. 33, respectively.
Orndorff and Bastian have been particularly pleasant surprises this season. Each in his first year as a starter, the duo has two of the best individual records on the team, with Bastian posting a 20-10 mark and Orndorff recording a 20-12 record. In addition to their national rankings, each has wins over nationally ranked opponents and both received a Big 12 wrestler of the week nod during the season. However, the success of these freshmen comes as no surprise to them. Despite their accomplishments this year, both insist this is just the first step on the path to bigger things.
“[When] I came into the season, I don’t think anyone really expected a lot from me. I was a freshman and first time starter. I didn’t have a lot of pre-season hype,” said Orndorff. “I knew what I was able to do this year, what I could be and what I could do. I don’t think a lot of other people knew that, and still I would consider myself an underdog.”
When Orndorff initially arrived at UVU, he sat down with one of his coaches to set personal goals for his career. He told his coach that he wanted to be a national champion here.
Bastian expressed a similar sentiment, citing his equally lofty goals.
“I’m happy with what I’ve been able to do so far, and I’m excited to get a shot at becoming an All-American,” he said. “I feel like I have a good opportunity and a good chance at being able to place at the NCAA’s this year. That’s the goal, All-American.”
Head coach Greg Williams points to having confident young players as being key to establish a winning program.
“I think the success of any program is bringing in guys that are talented and have confidence in competing at this next level,” he said. “This group of freshmen that were redshirting last year and the group we have redshirting right now, there’s eight guys in that group. They have a lot of confidence.”
Williams is excited to see how the next four years play out. He believes that, with the level of talent and confidence in the program, the top step of the podium is a real possibility. Expectations for the team are high, and the wrestlers certainly seem to have bought in.
The coaching staff has done an excellent job of recruiting to bring high-level talent to UVU. This season should serve as a springboard for the Wolverines as they ascend onto the national stage.