Despite competing on the same night as both basketball teams, the wrestling team drew the biggest crowd of the night thanks in large part to this year’s freshman class of 20-plus. The recruiting class was ranked No. 11 in the country, boasting several grapplers who won multiple state titles in their prep careers.
Montana native and four-time state champion Jade Rouser lost his first match to sophomore Colby Christensen in a matchup of 125-pounders. Rouser credited the eight-point loss to Christensen’s experience, stating, “Just that one year at the college level, it’s a huge leap.”
Christensen’s leap will be needed. The Vernal, Utah, native becomes the new 125-pound starter, replacing national contender and since-graduated Ben Kjar. Christensen, however, is choosing the embrace the opportunity as a chance to surprise opponents who would consider Kjar’s absence a point of weakness on this year’s squad.
“I don’t feel any pressure at all,” Christensen said. “There’s a lot of people who aren’t expecting anything out of me and I want to prove them wrong.
Wednesday night proved a good starting point, as Christensen went on to win both his matches over Rouser and freshman Jarod Maynes.
“[The freshmen] are tough,” Christensen said. “They’ve got a lot more experience than I had coming into college. They’re a lot better than I was. They need to work on bottom and top a little bit, but they’re going to be tough.”
Freshman Napoleon Aniciete, aided by a large following of friends and family, quickly became a fan favorite due to his combination of name, game and origin (Las Vegas). The 157-pounder dominated en route to two shutout victories over Andrew Orr and Jake Falk.
Other freshmen who swept their matches included David Prieto (184), Derek Thomas (184) and Chase Cuthbertson (157).
Kjar, who recently qualified for the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials, was on hand to behold the program’s most successful recruiting class yet.
“It’s big-time,” Kjar said. “You kind of see how you were the Johnny Appleseed and finally you see things coming to fruition you never thought you would see. Usually you see it eventually, but you never think it will come so quick.”
Written by Matt Petersen
Photo by Mike Fackrell