As seniors on the Utah Valley University wrestling team, Derek Thomas and Chasen Tolbert are working hard to earn a trip to Nationals at Madison Square Garden in New York City March 17-19. They are not just looking for a spot in the competition, but for spots on the podium. It is this level of competition that they’ve been dreaming of since they were freshmen.
“I feel like my experience has changed a lot over the years, but things have only gotten better and better, especially in my senior year,” Thomas said.
“We’ve had a lot of different coaches, right now everything is good, and we’re primed to go where we want to as a team.” Tolbert said.
A lot has changed for Tolbert since walking on to the wrestling team as a freshman. Entering the Reno Tournament of Champions on Dec. 20, Tolbert was nationally ranked at 11th in the 125-pound weight class. Now, as one of the best wrestlers in the nation for his weight class he reflects on his path.
“I always imagined (being one of the best) and envisioned it,” Tolbert said. “But I never guessed it would happen the way it did. Of course I worked for it every practice. The way things have worked out has been awesome.”
Thomas has also had a long path from becoming a freshman, and after finishing 14-11 in his junior season, has really turned things around in his senior year. UVU head coach Greg Williams calls him a “new wrestler” and it is something that Thomas agrees with.
“My mentality this year is a lot different than it has been the last few years,” Thomas said. “Over the years I’ve had great coaches and mentors that have helped me realize my potential and helped me realize I can accomplish everything I want to accomplish. It’s not that far away, it’s mostly mental, and it’s not strength but toughness on the mat. I’m not just going to nationals this year. I’m standing on the podium.”
With the Big 12 Conference Championships coming up in February, Tolbert and Thomas look forward to their time to shine.
“I’m sticking with the game plan,” Tolbert said. “I’m doing the workouts designed for me, getting in my extras, and staying healthy. I trust that the plan the coaches have set out for me will pay off for me.”
Being seniors, Tolbert and Thomas are also leaders off the mat as well and have the opportunity to be the role model for all the younger Wolverines this year.
“I hope that I’m a good example, not just in practice or the locker room, but as a person.” Tolbert said.
“I think the main example we can set is to listen to coach and believe in their advice, that they’ll lead you in the right direction. Don’t slack, don’t miss workouts, always do extra. That’s the example we can give,” Thomas added.
The man on top didn’t fall there, and that’s certainly the case with Tolbert and Thomas. They’ve worked hard to become some of the best, and they’re setting the groundwork as UVU’s wrestling program becomes more nationally prominent.
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.