Photo by Mykah Heaton
The 2017 Big 12 Wrestling Championships will take place on March 4 and 5 at the Bank of Oklahoma Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The UVU wrestling team will have had three weeks from the end of the regular season to prepare for the conference tournament. Judging by the level of competition among its fellow conference members, the team will be glad for the extra preparation time.
The Big 12 is considered one of the best wrestling conferences in the country. Three conference teams finished the season on InterMat’s top-20 tournament team rankings with North Dakota State coming in at No. 18, South Dakota State at No. 15 and Oklahoma State at No. 2.
As for individual rankings, this year’s conference tournament will feature 41 wrestlers that ended the regular season ranked in the RPI top-35 of their respective classes, with eight of those finishing in the top 10. Six of the eight wrestle for Oklahoma State, which has built a wrestling dynasty and is considered by many to be the best team in the country this year. At last year’s tournament, the Cowboys won their fourth consecutive team title as seven OSU wrestlers won individual titles.
As a team, UVU finished eighth overall at the 2016 tournament, with five wrestlers placing in the top six of their respective weight classes. Four of those five were seniors and have since graduated, leaving junior heavyweight Dustin Dennison the lone wrestler on the team to have placed in last year’s conference tournament. Dennison placed fourth in his weight class, narrowly missing out on an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships.
Certain podium positions have automatic NCAA bids tied to them. The exact number of bids for each class varies by year, and this year’s numbers have yet to be determined. In most weight classes, however, a top-three finish in the Big 12 Tournament will guarantee a spot at the national tournament. Those not receiving an automatic bid will hope to receive an at-large invitation, and a good showing in the conference tournament helps the case for that.
UVU finished the year with four wrestlers appearing in the RPI top-35 rankings, with Tanner Orndorff (197 pounds) ranked No. 17, Kimball Bastian (174 pounds) No. 21, Dustin Dennison (heavyweight) No. 18 and Jarod Maynes (133 pounds) No. 33. As such, the Wolverines will hope to qualify several wrestlers for the NCAA Championships, whether by way of automatic bid or at-large invitation.
Regardless of the outcome at the Big 12 Championships, the regular season can be considered a success. Coming into the year with only one senior and a host of relatively unknown wrestlers, the Wolverines not only finished the year with four athletes on the top 35 list, but found themselves nationally ranked as a team. In the final rankings of the year, UVU came in at No. 20 on the NCWA mid-majors top 20 rankings.
The NCAA Championships will be held March 16-18 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri.