CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Utah Valley University junior Josh Wilson punched his ticket to the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships by placing second at the NCAA West Regional/Western Wrestling Conference Championships Sunday at the McLeod Center.
"Josh has had to battle through an injury and walking pneumonia the past month or two, and I'm really proud of the way that he come out and competed today," said UVU head coach Greg Williams. "He came here to win it and got pretty close. He's wrestling well and is feeling strong again right at the right time. He'll be ready to go back to Nationals and we feel like he has a chance to go there and do some good."
In all UVU had its most competitors place at the conference tournament in history as eight of the 10 Wolverine wrestlers placed in the top 4. Coming into the tournament Utah Valley had just three guys seeded in the top four.
"We wrestled very well. We way out-performed what was expected of us coming into the tournament," Williams said. "I feel like our guys grew up a little bit out there today and showed me that they are all close. We have a young team and I felt like our guys progressed well this season. I think they all have a lot to be proud of."
Behind Wilson, UVU's Avery Garner (141 pounds) and Ethan Smith (165) placed third while Colby Christensen (125), Blake Mangum (133), Monte Schmalhaus (174), Brian Chamberlain (197) and Dustin Dennison (285) all placed fourth.
Out of the seven WWC schools competing at the conference tournament hosted by the University of Northern Iowa, UVU came in fifth place with 43.5 points. Overall the No. 11 Wyoming Cowboys, who won the regular season title with a perfect 6-0 dual record, won their third straight regional title with 93 points. Northern Iowa finished second with 76 points, while North Dakota State placed third (51.5), Air Force fourth (50.5), Northern Colorado sixth (36.5) and South Dakota State seventh (5).
Four Wolverines reached the semis on the day as Garner, Wilson, Smith and Schmalhaus all advanced into their respective semifinals. Wilson, who entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed and was ranked 15th nationally, was the lone Wolverine to advance into the championship bout, however.
Wilson drew a first-round bye to advance into the semis. In the semifinal, Wilson took care of business as he dominated UNI's Ryan Jauch from start to finish in a 9-0 major decision. The win gave Wilson a spot in the finals against the No. 1 seed and third-ranked Cole VonOhlen from Air Force.
In the championship bout Wilson and VonOhlen entered the second period scoreless. Wilson then was the first to get on the board in the second by picking up an escape point midway through the frame. VonOhlen then tied the score at 1-1 with an escape of his own at the start of the third.
With VonOhlen having more than a minute of riding time in his favor Wilson looked for a late takedown. The UVU junior came very close to getting it but instead VonOhlen landed a late takedown and a riding time point to defeat Wilson 4-1. The loss entered Wilson into a true second-place match against NDSU's Mark Erickson to see who would get the second bid to the NCAA Championships.
In the true second-place bout, Wilson controlled the match and only gave up a late escape point to Erickson to win 6-1 and earn his first-ever trip to nationals.
Garner opened his outing with an 8-6 win over SDSU's Dustin Walraven to advance to the semis. In the semifinals Garner battled with the No. 2 seed from Northern Colorado, Casey Cruz, but Garner ended up dropping the contest 5-2 to fall to the wrestlebacks. The UVU sophomore bounced back in the consolation semis with a 9-4 win over NDSU's Tyler Diamond to advance to the third-place bout.
In the consolation final, Garner jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead over SDSU's Dustin Walraven. Walraven then came back and made it close in the second but Garner got a late takedown and three-point near fall to win by major decision 15-6. The win gave Garner a third-place finish at his first-ever NCAA West Regional.
Smith, who earned the No. 3 seed at the tournament, received a first-round bye and began his day in the semis against the two seed from Northern Colorado in Gabe Burak. Smith gave Burak, who is ranked 10th in the country, a challenge, but in the end Burak picked up a 4-0 win over Smith to send the UVU redshirt freshman into the consolation bracket. Smith then advanced to the third-place match as he cruised to a 13-2 major decision win over AFA's Colby Kluesner.
Smith continued to take care of business in the consolation final by pinning UNI's Riley Banach in the center of the mat just 2:38 into the contest. The win gave Smith a third-place finish at his first-ever WWC Championships.
Schmalhaus picked up an easy first-round victory to make his way into the semis by pinning UNI's Onni Prestidge just 1:37 into the bout. The UVU redshirt sophomore, who earned the No. 3 seed for the tournament, took on the two-seeded Clayton Gable from Air Force in the semifinal. Gable took the upper hand in the contest and went on to defeat Schmalhaus 7-3 to send the UVU grappler into the wrestleback bracket.
In the consolation semis, Schmalhaus continued the UVU trend by advancing into the third-place bout with an 11-1 major decision victory over SDSU's Joe Rasmussen. In the consolation final Schmalhaus and NDSU's Tyler Johnson needed a sudden victory overtime period to determine a winner as they ended regulation tied 2-2. In overtime Johnson managed to take down Schmalhaus to win the bout 4-2 and give Schmalhaus a fourth-place finish.
After dropping his opening contest to the No. 2 seed, Trent Sprenkle of North Dakota State, Wolverine 125-pounder Christensen stayed alive with a big upset win over the No. 3 seed from South Dakota State, Aaron Pickrel. Christensen was trailing Pickrel 5-4 midway through the third when the UVU redshirt freshman caught Pickrel and pinned him (6:25). Christensen then followed it up with a 4-3 win over the four seed from UNI in Cruse Aarhus to reach the consolation final.
Christensen then found himself in one of the most entertaining matches of the day as he and AFA's Greg Rinker went back-and-forth the entire third-place bout. After numerous reversals for both Christensen and Rinker in the final period, Christensen found himself down a point with just seconds to go. The Wolverine redshirt freshman then looked to have picked up the tying escape point but the referee said that time had expired before the point was awarded, resulting in a 12-11 loss for Christensen and a fourth-place finish for the UVU wrestler.
Mangum, Chamberlain and Dennison too each lost their first matches of the day but all responded with wins in their next match to reach the consolation finals. Mangum held on to defeat UNC's Sam Bauer 5-3 and Chamberlain and Dennison did the same against SDSU's Nick Mart (2-0) and AFA's Jared Erickson (3-2), respectively.
In Mangum's third-place bout, he held a slight 1-0 advantage heading into the third period over the three seed from AFA in Tyler Untrauer. Untrauer then tied the contest with an escape point and took the lead with a takedown midway through the third. Mangum then escaped to trail by just one and was looking for a late takedown but couldn't get it as he fell 3-2 to place fourth.
In the 197-pound consolation final, Chamberlain took on the No. 2 seed Josh Mohr from Air Force. The UVU freshman gave Mohr a battle as it was close in the beginning, but in the end Mohr defeated Chamberlain 9-4 to give Chamberlain a fourth-place finish.
The freshman Dennison then took on the fourth-seeded Evan Knutson from NDSU in the heavyweight consolation final. Dennison scored the first point of the contest as he escaped Knutson's hold early in the second period and Knutson tied it up with an escape of his own in the beginning of the third. The contest headed to overtime and Knutson ended up getting an escape point in the second-tiebreaker period to win 2-1 and give Dennison a fourth-place finish.
For those who didn't qualify at the regional, the NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee will meet in person to select the remaining 40 at-large qualifiers, who will be announced on Wednesday. The at-large selections will be 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. Last year the WWC received two additional at-large selections.
This year's three-day NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships will take place March 15-17 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. For ticket information visit Ticketmaster.com or call the Scottrade Center ticket office at 314-622-5400.
West Regional/WWC Automatic Qualifiers for the 2012 NCAA Championships (champions listed first)
125 - Trent Sprenkle (NDSU)
125 - Michael Martinez (WYO)
133 - Joe Colon (UNI)
133 - Zach Zehner (WYO)
141 - Levi Wolfensperger (UNI)
149 - Cole VonOhlen (AFA)
149 - Josh Wilson (UVU)
157 - Steven Monk (NDSU)
157 - David Bonin (UNI)
157 - Josh Kreimier (AFA)
165 - Shane Onufer (WYO)
165 - Gabe Burak (UNC)
174 - Pat Martinez (WYO)
184 - Joe LeBlanc (WYO)
184 - Ryan Loder (UNI)
197 - Alfonso Hernandez (WYO)
285 - Blayne Beale (UNI)
Final Team Scores
1. Wyoming (93.5)
2. Northern Iowa (76)
3. North Dakota State (51.5)
4. Air Force (50.5)
5. Utah Valley (43.5)
6. Northern Colorado (36.5)
7. South Dakota State (5)
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.