Laramie, Wyo. — Utah Valley University senior Josh Wilson and sophomore Adam Fager both won titles Saturday at the NCAA West Regional/Western Wrestling Conference Championships, and the Wolverines placed third as a team with 70 points, just nine points back of champion and host Wyoming.
By winning their respective weight brackets, both the 149-pounder Wilson and heavyweight Fager received automatic bids to NCAA Championships. UVU 125-pound redshirt freshman Jade Rauser also punched his ticket to the "Big Show" with a fourth-place finish in his weight class. The titles were the first for Wilson and Fager.
In the team score, Wyoming came from behind to win its fourth straight West Regional title with 79 points, as it topped North Dakota State by three points (76). Utah Valley finished in third with 70 points, while Air Force placed fourth (63.5) and South Dakota State finished fifth (16.5).
"I've been proud of this team all year long. They've worked so hard," UVU head coach Greg Williams said. "This time of year is always rough because you have some guys staying home that you think were good enough to go (to the NCAA Championships). But overall we wrestled well here and I'm proud of Josh, Adam and Jade for getting it done."
Wilson went 2-0 in the tournament to win his first conference title and earn his second straight trip to the NCAA Championships. To win the 149-pound championship, Wilson had to go through the No. 3 ranked wrestler in the nation in Air Force's Cole VonOhlen. Wilson held a 1-0 lead in the second period over the AFA senior when VonOhlen injured himself resulting in a title via medical forfeit for Wilson.
Top-seeded Fager also finished 2-0 en route to his title. The Wolverine heavyweight defeated Wyoming's Leland Pfeifer 5-2 in the semis and then bested the two-seed from NDSU, Evan Knutson, 2-1 in overtime. Fager and Knutson both headed to overtime deadlocked at 1-all after regulation. After a scoreless sudden victory OT-period, Fager managed to escape Knutson's hold in the first tiebreaker round and then didn't let Knutson go in the second tiebreaker period to win the title.
With four auto spots available at 125, Rauser had to win a true fourth-place bout to get his bid. He took on SDSU senior Aaron Pickrel in the final bout of the evening and Rauser managed to pull out a hard fought 3-1 win over Pickrel. The win was a nice one for Rauser as he bounced back after getting pinned by last year's champion in NDSU's Trent Sprenkle (4:30) and the two-seed Tyler Cox from Wyoming (6:27) in his first two matches.
In all, every UVU grappler in action advanced to the semifinals after 133-pounder Chasen Tolbert, 157-pounder Ethan Smith and 184-pounder Derek Thomas all won their respective opening matches in the pigtail round. The Wolverines' seven other wrestlers, who were all seeded three or higher, received byes into the semis.
Of the 10 Wolverines that made the semis, five of them advanced to the finals. Junior Avery Garner (141 pounds), Wilson, junior Abner Cook (165), junior Monte Schmalhaus (174) and Fager all picked up semifinal wins in their respective weight classes to reach the finals.
Garner, Wilson, Schmalhaus and Fager all won tight decisions over AFA's Carter McElhany (2-1), SDSU's Dustin Walraven (6-4), NDSU's Kurtis Julson (2-0) and UW's Leland Pfeifer (5-2), respectively, while Cook wasted no time in his semifinal bout against AFA's Jesse Stafford as he pinned him just 47 seconds into the contest. With the quick pin over Stafford, Cook received the Quickest Fall Award after the tournament.
Garner, Cook and Schmalhaus all placed second in their respective weight class as they all fell in the finals. Garner fell to Wyoming's McCade Ford (5-2), Cook got pinned by the top-seeded Steven Monk of NDSU (2:48) and Schmalhaus dropped a one-point bout to UW's L.J. Helbig (3-2).
In the third-place bouts, Tolbert and 197-pound sophomore David Prieto each placed third for Utah Valley after Tolbert defeated Wyoming's Kasey GarnHart, 4-0, and Prieto beat AFA's Josh Mohr, 4-1. Smith and Thomas both finished fourth after they fell to the two-seed from UW Andy McCulley, 4-2 (OT), and the two-seed from AFA Devin Hightower, 17-2, respectively.
The third-place finish for UVU is the highest in program history.
Rauser, Wilson and Fager will all now prepare for the 2013 NCAA Championships that will take place March 21-23 at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. This year will mark Rauser and Fager's first trip to Nationals.
After all of the qualifying events have concluded this weekend, the NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee will meet in person next week to select the remaining 40 at-large qualifiers, which will be announced on March 13. Last season the WWC received one additional at-large selection.
Final Team Scores
1. Wyoming, 79.0
2. North Dakota State, 76.0
3. Utah Valley, 70.0
4. Air Force, 63.5
5. South Dakota State, 16.5
West Regional/WWC Automatic Qualifiers for the 2013 NCAA Championships (champions listed first)
125 - Trent Sprenkle (NDSU)
125 - Josh Martinez (AFA)
125 - Tyler Cox (WYO)
125 - Jade Rauser (UVU)
133 - Dylan Hyder (AFA)
141 - McCade Ford (WYO)
149 - Josh Wilson (UVU)
149 - Cole VonOhlen (AFA)
149 - Brandon Richardson (WYO)
157 - Josh Kreimier (AFA)
157 - Cody Pack (SDSU)
165 - Steven Monk (NDSU)
174 - L.J. Helbig (WYO)
184 - Shane Woods (WYO)
197 - Alfonso Hernandez (WYO)
285 - Adam Fager (UVU)
Outstanding Wrestler - Trent Sprenkle, North Dakota State
Most Pins - Abner Cook, Utah Valley (Fastest Pin, 47 seconds)
Coach of the Year - Roger Kish, North Dakota State
Regular Season Team Champion - North Dakota State
Tournament Champion - Wyoming
True 4th (125 lbs.) - Jade Rauser (UVU) Dec. Aaron Pickrel (SDSU), 3-1
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit www.WolverineGreen.com.