Three Wolverine wrestlers punch tickets to NCAA Championships

WOLVERINEGREENDOTCOM Senior Avery Garner won his first career conference title.
Senior Avery Garner won his first career conference title.

March 8, 2014

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OREM, Utah - Three Utah Valley University wrestlers punched their tickets to the 2014 NCAA Championships Saturday at the NCAA West Regional/Western Wrestling Conference Championships that was held at the UCCU Center in Orem, Utah.

The three Wolverine grapplers to secure automatic bids to the NCAA's were sophomore 125-pounder Jade Rauser, senior 141-pounder Avery Garner and fellow senior Curtis Abner Cook (165 pounds). Of the group, Garner one his first conference title while Rauser wrestled back to take second in his weight class, which included winning a true second-place bout, and Cook placed third.

Garner and Cook both secured their first trips to nationals while Rauser will make his second consecutive appearance after he competed there as a redshirt freshman a season ago.

"Our number one goal is to get guys to nationals. Obviously we are pleased because we might end up taking the most we've ever taken (depending on if Adam Fager get picked up as an at-large selection), so it's definitely a step forward," head coach Greg Williams said.

The three qualifiers matches a program best for Utah Valley and will also mark the fifth consecutive season that the Wolverines will be represented at the NCAA Championships.

In the team score race, UVU finished in fourth place but just a half a point back of third place Air Force as the Wolverines posted 49.5 points while AFA put up 50. North Dakota State took home the tournament title with 74 points to halt Wyoming streak at four as the Cowboys came in second with 66 total points. South Dakota State and Northern Colorado rounded out the tourney as the two finished with 34.5 and 12.5 respective points.

"Overall I was very pleased with how our guys wrestled and I was really proud of Avery and Abner," added Williams. "It's pretty special for both seniors to qualify in their last year after working so hard."

The senior Garner won his first conference title by holding on to defeat the top seeded Cole Mendenhall from Wyoming in the finals by a score of 9-7. Garner held a late 8-6 lead and despite taking a stall call in the closing seconds won by two points as he had secured an additional riding time point. With the victory, Garner won his first and Utah Valley's fifth West Regional/WWC Title and Utah Valley's fifth.

Garner, who entered the tournament as the two seed, went 2-0 on the day as he also picked up a 5-0 win over SDSU' Eric Orozco in the semis.

After taking an injury default in the opening round against the Falcons' Jesse Stafford in the opening round, the senior Cook punched his ticket to his first trip to the Big Show by winning both his bouts in the wrestlebacks to take third. The four-seed Cook managed to upset the No. 3 seed Joe Brewster from SDSU in the consolation semis - a first period fall (2:44) - to advance to the third-place bout. Cook then secured his qualifying spot with a dominant 10-3 decision over Northern Colorado's Charlie McMartin in the third-place match.

The three-seeded sophomore Rauser began his qualifying run with a 12-1 major decision over NDSU's Hunter Weber in the opening round. Following a hard fought 6-5 defeat to the eventual champion Tyler Cox of Wyoming in the semis, Rauser bounced back in the consolation semis by pinning Ben Gillette of South Dakota State and followed it up with a 6-2 victory over Northern Colorado's Trey Andrews in the third-place bout. The victory then setup a true second-place bout with the top seed Josh Martinez from Air Force and Rauser took the match by medial forfeit to earn his second straight trip to the Big Show.

Behind the trio of Wolverines that qualified for the NCAA's, junior Adam Fager had a solid tournament as he placed second at heavyweight. Fager, who entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed, opened his day with a 3-2 decision over UNC's Henry Chirino in the semis. Fager then failed to pick up his weight class' auto bid with a 4-2 loss to the top seed from NDSU Evan Knutson. Fager will likely receive an at-large selection next week to the NCAA Championship as he is ranked 12th in the final NCAA Coaches' Panel Rankings and 15th in the latest RPI and also has a number of quality wins over stiff competition.

Despite Garner and Fager being the only Wolverines to wrestle for titles on the day, seven other UVU grapplers wrestled for third. Four of those seven placed third as Rauser (who later earned a true second-place finish), Cook, sophomore 133-pounder Chasen Tolbert and fellow sophomore Derek Thomas (197) all won their respective third-place bouts. Sophomore Trevor Willson (149), senior Monte Schmalhaus (174) and junior Ethan Smith (184) all finished in fourth place.

Sophomore 157-pounder Chase Cuthbertson also wrestled for UVU on the day and ended his first WWC Championship run with an 0-2 record.

Saturday's West Regional marked the first-ever NCAA event to be contested on the campus of Utah Valley.

"We may not have won all the matches we wanted or thought we would win, but I felt like we battled and fought through all the matches and that was something we didn't do in our final dual of the season," concluded Williams.

After all of the qualifying events have concluded, the NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee will meet in-person to select the remaining 40 at-large qualifiers, which will be announced on March 12. All weight classes will consist of 33 wrestlers. The at-large selections will be made based on the following criteria: head-to-head competition; qualifying event placement; quality wins; results against common opponents; winning percentage; RPI; coaches ranking and the number of matches contested at that weight class.

The 2014 NCAA Championships will be held March 20-22 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Final Team Scores
1. North Dakota State - 74.0
2. Wyoming - 66.0
3. Air Force - 50.0
4. Utah Valley - 49.5
5. South Dakota State - 34.5
6. Northern Colorado - 12.5

West Regional/WWC Automatic Qualifiers for the 2014 NCAA Championships (champions listed first)
125: Tyler Cox (Wyoming)
125: Jade Rauser (Utah Valley)
133: Greg Rinker (Air Force)
141: Avery Garner (Utah Valley)
149: Alex Kocer (South Dakota State)
157: Cody Pack (South Dakota State)
157: Josh Kreimier (Air Force)
165: Steven Monk (North Dakota State)
165: Dakota Friesth (Wyoming)
165: Curtis Abner Cook (Utah Valley)
174: Hayden Zillmer (North Dakota State)
184: Benjamin Stroh (Wyoming)
184: Devin Hightower (Air Force)
197: Shane Woods (Wyoming)
285: Evan Knutson (North Dakota State)

Tournament Awards
Outstanding Wrestler: Steven Monk (North Dakota State)
Most Pins: Steven Monk (North Dakota State) {Fastest Time}
Coach of the Year: Roger Kish (North Dakota State)
Regular Season Team Champion: Wyoming
Tournament Champion: North Dakota State

Bonus Matches
True 2nd (125 lbs.) - Jade Rauser (Utah Valley) wins by medical forfeit over Josh Martinez (Air Force)
True 2nd (157 lbs.) - Josh Kreimier (Air Force) wins by decision over Andy McCulley (Wyoming), 8-4
True 2nd (184 lbs.) - Devin Hightower (Air Force) wins by decision over Kurtis Julson (North Dakota State), 3-1

Attendance: 1462