Photo courtesy of UVU Athletics

The UVU wrestling team kicked off the 2017-18 campaign in Clarion, Penn., as it took part in the Clarion Duels Nov. 3 and the Clarion Open Nov. 5. In the duals, UVU faced three opponents during the same afternoon, and nearly came away unscathed.

The Wolverines defeated Big 12 foe West Virginia in the opening dual meet of the event, winning seven of 10 matchups before facing Clarion in the subsequent dual. Against the Golden Eagles, the Wolverines were able to rally behind a fall by Tanner Orndorff over his opponent in the 197-pound match and a major decision victory from Dustin Dennison in the heavyweight match. In each of the duals, redshirt freshman 125-pounder Taylor LaMont recorded an upset victory over a ranked opponent by defeating No. 7 Zeke Moisey of WVU and No. 19 Jake Gromacki of Clarion. The Wolverines suffered their only setback of the day at the hands of Kent State in the final meet of the afternoon. In the duals, LaMont, Dennison and sophomore transfer 165-pounder Demetrius Romero each completed a perfect day by going 3-0 in their respective matches.

With a day off to recoup, UVU took to the mat again as it opened up competition in tournament action on Nov. 5. Behind a 5-0 performance from then-No. 16 Dennison, the Wolverines were able to capture their first team tournament title in school history by winning the Clarion Open with 101 total team points.

“We have some talent. It’s a young team, but there’s talent,” said head coach Greg Williams. “Throughout our lineup we have guys who can score points in decent competition.”

With his perfect mark, Dennison placed first in his weight class, while five other Wolverines earned top-three finishes at their respective weights. Grant LaMont (149), Romero (165), Tanner Orndorff (197) and Tate Orndorff (285), who competed unattached, each earned second place finishes, while Taylor LaMont (125) finished third.

“It was awesome to see all the hard work that I’ve put in, the guys have put in and the coaches have put in, finally pay off,” Dennison said about the team victory. “It felt great, but still a lot of work to do.”

“I don’t think anybody in this room was surprised. It’s what we expect,” said Taylor LaMont. “It was special. It’s not like we’re winning the conference yet or the national championship, but it’s a start. Winning that first team title, and doing it as a freshman for my very first tournament, it kind of sets the standard for me. I want to get used to this feeling of winning, not just as an individual but as a team.”

What makes this historic win even more impressive is that the Wolverines were without three key individuals, as Kimball Bastian, Matt Findlay and Raider Lofthouse were absent from the event.

The Wolverines will hit the road again this week when they head to Raleigh, N.C., to take part in the Wolfpack Duals Nov.18, before competing in the Wolfpack Open Nov. 19. In the duals, UVU will face Reinhardt, NC State and UNC Pembroke.

NC State, which is ranked No. 7 nationally and features seven ranked athletes, including three in the top 10, certainly presents a challenge for the Wolverines, but also a unique opportunity.

“If we want to do well at nationals, we have to wrestle that level of competition. So we’re always looking to wrestle ranked teams. Guys that are ranked give our guys opportunities,” said Williams, pointing out that the benefit of high profile competition is two-fold. “One, you have a chance to beat a kid like that, and that’s how you earn rankings. You’re not going to get there by beating unranked guys. Two, it gets you prepared to wrestle at that level. Our whole season is about postseason. It’s all about preparation to get guys to nationals.”

At the conclusion of the Wolfpack Open, the team will turn its attention to the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational which takes place Dec. 1-2. The Wolverines will then return home to prepare for their Big 12 opener and first home match of the season Dec. 15 against North Dakota State in the Lockhart Arena.