The Wolverine wrestling team made up for over a month’s worth of road matches, hosting two consecutive home meets over the weekend.
UVU opened its two-day homestand Friday against conference rival Northern Colorado. The matchup featured two nationally ranked grapplers in Ben Kjar (12) and the Bears’ Justin Gaethje (13), though they competed in different weight classes.
Sophomore 133-pounder Paul Johnson was unable to make any headway in the opening match, dropping a 3-0 decision to UNC’s Casey Cruz, putting UVU in an early 3-0 hole. The Wolverines got an unexpected boost, however, ending up on the receiving end of a forfeit for Justin Morrill’s 141 match. The automatic win gave the Wolverines a 6-3 overall lead.
Avery Garner took the mat next against Gaethje, and the freshman teased the home crowd with the possibility of an upset after taking a brief 2-0 lead off a takedown. Gaethje recovered, however, powering his way to an 18-7 decision.
Despite the final score, Wolverine head coach Greg Williams was encouraged by Garner’s performance.
“Avery went out there and competed against a really good wrestler even though he’s a freshman and just got back from his mission,” Williams said. “He did really, really well, and I’m real pleased with how aggressive he was.”
With UVU trailing 7-6, Josh Wilson took the mat against Tanner Weiks at 157 pounds. It proved competitive from the start. Weiks took Wilson out of bounds in their first bout of action and added an extra shove for good measure.
Wilson briefly smiled, then went to work, taking a tightly contested 2-1 decision to give the Wolverines a 9-7 advantage.
Jeb Clark (165 pounds, 9-3 decision), Brad Darrington (174 pounds, forfeit) and Casen Eldredge (184 pounds, 8-0 major decision) took the next three matches, giving UVU a 22-7 lead that became insurmountable once UNC’s following two wins were won only by decision, leaving the Wolverines with a nine-point edge heading into the final match.
Ben Kjar took his match in a tightly fought 3-1 decision over Sam Bauer, a 125-pound matchup that has taken place several times before.
Kjar’s victory left no doubt which wrestler, and team, holds bragging rights for the time being.
The majority of the non-varsity grapplers looked for that same advantage the following day at the UVU Open, which featured over eight hours of matches involving wrestlers from schools ranging from Boise State to Arizona State.
Sophomore Monte Schmalhaus outshone them all, sweeping his three matches en route to first place in the 174-pound division.
Incredibly, Schmalhaus (6-0, 2-0, 2-0) did not give up a single point on the way to his title, leading coach Williams to rave about his in-game control.
“He’s doing a great job at controlling the match,” Williams said. “We want him to get even better at putting up pins. If he does that, he’s going to make a huge jump and be able to compete at a really, really high level.”
Also performing at high levels were freshman Colby Christensen (125 pounds, second place), freshman Trevor Rupp (197 pounds, third), Derek Malan (133 pounds, fourth) and Logan Wilson (141 pounds, fourth).
Between the individual experience earned and the opportunity to compete against well-known opponents from Colorado and Wyoming, coach Williams embraced Saturday as a valuable learning experience for the team and the program.
“Wyoming, especially, there are guys here that are red-shirting, second-team guys, that are very tough. They could start for a lot of programs,” Williams said. “It’s good for our guys to wrestle them.”