OREM — After sending three wrestlers to the NCAA Championships a year ago and placing third in the Western Wrestling Conference, head coach Greg Williams is anticipating a big 2013-14 campaign from his veteran Utah Valley University wrestling squad.
The Wolverines will welcome back nine of their 10 starters from last year's team that went 6-4 overall and 3-2 in the WWC, as well as two who wrestled at the "Big Show" in Des Moines, Iowa. The lone starter from the 2012-13 season who has since departed is two-time NCAA Qualifier and one-time conference champion Josh Wilson (149 pounds).
"We have high expectations for this year," Williams said. "We only lost one wrestler last year in Josh Wilson but we have three seniors this year that will provide us good leadership. We also return nine guys who wrestled for us at conference last year, so we're definitely expecting great things."
Williams will look to his three seniors — 141-pounder Avery Garner, 165-pounder Curtis Abner Cook and 174-pounder Monte Schmalhaus — to lead his team this year as he has named them all team captains. The trio of Wolverines had successful 2012-13 campaigns as together they combined to go 56-31, and Garner and Schmalhaus both recorded 20-win seasons. All three also capped last season by placing second in their respective weight classes at the NCAA West Regional/WWC Championships.
"We came fairly close of achieving our goal of winning conference last year, and we feel like that it is something we can accomplish this season," Williams said. "We expect all of our individuals to do well as we return two NCAA Qualifiers and three seniors who were all runners-up at last year's conference tournament. Those three are definitely hungry and really want to make it to the NCAA Tournament this season."
The eighth-year head coach will also anticipate big things from his two returning NCAA Qualifiers: sophomore Jade Rauser (125 pounds) and junior heavyweight Adam Fager. After wrestling at the NCAA Championships last year, Rauser and Fager are ranked nationally in a number of preseason polls. Rauser is ranked as high as 13th by InterMat, while Fager comes in at 20th on a couple of the polls. Rauser had a stellar redshirt freshman year in which he went 21-10, 6-1 in duals and led the team in falls with nine. Rauser, who became UVU's first-ever freshman to compete at the NCAA Championships last year, went 1-2 at his first trip to nationals with a pin over Indiana's Joe Duca. Fager also surpassed 20 victories last season as he went 20-12 and a perfect 6-0 in WWC action. The UVU heavyweight was one of two Wolverines to win a conference title last year. Fager concluded his season by going 0-2 at his first appearance at nationals but nearly defeated Penn State's Jimmy Lawson in his final match as he fell, 5-4.
Utah Valley also returns four other starters from last year's team in junior Ethan Smith (184), as well as sophomores Chasen Tolbert (133), Chase Cuthbertson (157) and Derek Thomas (197). Smith and Thomas will move up to new weight classes this season as Smith will bump up from 157 all the way to 184, while Thomas will shift from 184 to 197.
Tolbert led the way out of the four with 13 victories last season, while Cuthbertson and Smith each recorded 10 and Thomas put up nine. At the conference championships, Tolbert took third, while Smith and Thomas each placed fourth.
"We've also had a lot of improvement during the offseason. Chasen Tolbert, Chase Cuthbertson, Ethan Smith and Derek Thomas all worked very hard and are looking good," Williams said. "There is a lot of experience as well as confidence throughout the lineup. Our workouts are way ahead of where they were last year."
To fill Wilson's spot at 149-pounds will most likely be transfer Trevor Willson, who comes to UVU after wrestling his freshman campaign at Arizona State last season. Willson, a sophomore from Tucson, Ariz., went 1-3 in limited action for the Sun Devils in 2012-13.
"There's not one kid in that lineup that's not planning on going to nationals," Williams said. "Several of them also feel like they're good enough to step up on that podium. And that is exactly the kind of mentality that we are looking for from them."
In all, the Wolverines will welcome back 15 letterwinners from last year's squad, as well as mix in 14 newcomers.
Notable newcomers include Dalton Brady (133/141), a four-time Arizona State Champion from Chandler High School (Queen Creek, Ariz.), as well as a 2013 USA Folkstyle National Champion and a World Team member that placed fifth at the 2011 FILA Cadet Freestyle Championships, and local product Jed Mellen (133), a three-time State Champion from Payson High School (Payson, Utah).
"These are a couple of the most talented wrestlers that we've ever had in the room. We're definitely expecting some great things from them in the future," said Williams when asked about Brady and Mellen. "We also have a few other guys that came in this year that we feel like will make an impact for us as well."
The 11 other newcomers that will wrestle for UVU this season are: Max Adamson (heavyweight from Murray, Utah), Aryton Almberg (184 from Ely, Nev.), Abel Gomez (184 from Las Vegas, Nev.), Koleton Hardy (149/157 from Brigham City, Utah), Jared Harris (149 from Springville, Utah), Jordan Karst (heavyweight from Las Vegas, Nev.), Richard Larsen (heavyweight from Sandy, Utah), Ty Rosevear (165/174 from Sherwood, Ore.), Tanner Sprenkle (125/133 from Billings, Mont.), Maxwell Sultan (133/141 from Fayetteville, Ga.) and Ross Taylor (165 from Newcastle, Utah). All of them came to Utah Valley from high school except for Taylor who transferred to UVU after spending two seasons at Western Wyoming CC in Rock Springs, Wyo.
The 2013-14 Wolverines will showcase their roster for the first time on Wednesday night at the PE Building with the annual UVU Intrasquad Dual. Admission will be free of charge, and the action begins at 7 p.m.
Following the Green vs. Black Intrasquad, Utah Valley will officially begin its season this Saturday in Laramie, Wyo., at the Cowboy Open. Last year, nine Wolverines placed at the same opening-season tournament. Cook and Schmalhaus led the way by each winning, while Smith took second.
In all, Utah Valley will face a challenging schedule this season that features duals against a number of top programs as well taking on stiff competition at some elite tournaments.
"We will face some tough competition this season and we need to rise to that," Williams said. "It will be our challenge to win those matches so our guys can get in the RPI ranking as well as the coaches poll and have more chances to earn those spots at conference to go to nationals."
Besides taking third in the regular season in the WWC a year ago, Utah Valley also recorded its highest finish in program history at the 2013 WWC Championships/NCAA West Regional by placing third. The Wolverines finished in third place with 70 points, just nine points back of first-place Wyoming and six behind second-place North Dakota State.
Following its conference season, Utah Valley will host the conference tournament, which doubles up as the NCAA West Regional, for the first time on March 8 in the PE Building.
"We're excited and our entire athletic department is excited to help us host the conference championships this year," Williams said. "If we're able to stay healthy, it's going to be a really fun tournament and we're going to have a great chance to win a conference title."
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit www.WolverineGreen.com.