The Utah Valley University wrestling team will host the institution's first-ever NCAA event this weekend when it competes at the NCAA West Regional on Saturday in the UCCU Center. The first round of the NCAA qualifying tournament will begin at noon, and the finals are slated to take place at 6 p.m.
Saturday's tournament will also double up as the Western Wrestling Conference Championships as all six WWC schools will take the mat at the event. Besides the host Wolverines, Air Force, North Dakota State, Northern Colorado, South Dakota State and Wyoming will all be vying for 15 automatic bids that have been awarded to the WWC from the NCAA.
Tickets are still available for Saturday's NCAA West Regional and can be purchased by visiting the UVU Ticket Office, which is located on the lower level of the UCCU Center, or by calling (801) 863-SHOW. Adult tickets for the day-long tournament are available for $10, while youth/students tickets are $5.
The tournament will be contested throughout the day on two mats, and live video of both mats will be available. Live results can also be followed for the entirety of the tournament by visiting TrackWrestling.
All 60 wrestlers in the tournament will officially be seeded (1-6 for each weight class) following a Coaches' Seeding Meeting that will be held Friday evening. Pre-seeds for the Regional were released on Wednesday and two UVU wrestlers were pre-seeded second in their weight class while three were third. Senior 141-pounder Avery Garner (12-8) and junior 285-pounder Adam Fager (17-6), who was an NCAA Qualifier last season, were pre-seeded second in their respective weight classes, while sophomore 125-pounder Jade Rauser (6-2), sophomore 133-pounder Chasen Tolbert (13-9) and junior 184-pounder Ethan Smith (8-10) were ranked third. Rauser also wrestled for the Wolverines at the 2013 NCAA Championships.
Sophomore 149-pounder Trevor Willson (4-16), senior 165-pounder Curtis Abner Cook (5-6), senior 174-pounder Monte Schmalhaus (9-10) and sophomore 197-pounder Derek Thomas are all pre-seeded fourth in their respective weight class, while sophomore 157-pounder Chase Cuthbertson (5-8) is ranked fifth at 157.
In all, Utah Valley sent three wrestlers to Nationals last season as Fager and departed senior Josh Wilson won titles at the 2013 NCAA West Regional to secure their spots. Rauser made it to the 2013 Big Show by finishing fourth in a very tough 125-pound weight class last year. Wilson led the way at the NCAA Championships last season by going 2-2, while Rauser and Fager finished with 1-2 and 0-2 respective records.
In the final NCAA Coaches' Panel Rankings and RPI that was released last week, Fager leads the way for UVU as he is ranked 12th by the coaches and 15th on the RPI at heavyweight. Garner is also ranked as he came in at 30th at 141 pounds on the coaches' panel.
This season will mark UVU's fifth straight season competing at the NCAA West Regional/WWC Championships, and in 2013 the Wolverines posted their best ever finish by taking third with 70 points. UVU finished just nine points back of first-place Wyoming, while North Dakota State came in second with 76.
Utah Valley tied for fourth this year in the regular season with a 2-3 WWC dual record. Overall, the Wolverines finished with a 6-9 clip. The Cowboys and the 22nd-ranked Bison finished with identical 4-1 conference records to finish atop the WWC standings, but UW took home the title as it held the tiebreaker with a head-to-head victory over NDSU. South Dakota State finished third at 3-2, while Air Force tied with UVU at 2-3 and Northern Colorado rounded out the conference with an 0-5 league record.
The breakdown of the 15 automatic bids per weight class for the West Regional/WWC Championships, are as follows: 125 pounds (2), 133 (1), 141 (1), 149 (1), 157 (2), 165 (3), 174 (1), 184 (2), 197 (1) and heavyweight (1).
For those who don't qualify at the regional, 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. Last year the WWC had three of its wrestlers receive at-large selections.
Qualifiers from this weekend's NCAA West Regional will compete at the 2014 NCAA Championships that will be held March 20-22 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Okla.
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit www.WolverineGreen.com.