UVU wrestling: three Wolverine wrestlers punch tickets to NCAA Championships

By James Warnick

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, March 9 2014 10:40 a.m. MDT

UVU senior Curtis Abner Cook (right) grapples his opponent. He secured his first-ever trip to Nationals by taking third in the 165-pound weight class Saturday at the UCCU Center in Orem.

Shane Truskolaski, UVU Athletics

Enlarge photo»

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

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 won his first conference title while Rauser wrestled back to take second in his weight class, which included winning a true second-place bout. Cook placed third.

Garner and Cook 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 gets 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's streak at four as the Cowboys came in second with 66 total points. South Dakota State and Northern Colorado rounded out the tournament 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," Williams said. "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.

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. No. 4 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 set up 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.