Utah Valley University wrestling will send a program record four grapplers to the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships that will run Thursday through Saturday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Okla. The tournament's opening session will get underway on Thursday at 11 a.m. CT.
"We're excited to get out there. We've got two guys that have been there before so they'll know what to expect," head coach Greg Williams said. "We've also got two seniors that are headed there for the first time so we're excited for them as well.
"There's not going to be any easy matches during the tournament, and a couple of our guys received tough first-round draws. Just getting to nationals is an honor but we're hoping to get some wins while were there as well as get a kid or two on the podium."
Seniors Avery Garner (141 pounds) and Curtis Abner Cook (165) will head to the Big Show for the first time, while sophomore 125-pounder Jade Rauser and junior 285-pounder Adam Fager will compete at nationals for the second time in their careers. Rauser, who was UVU's first-ever freshman to compete at the NCAA Championships a year ago, went 1-2 in 2013 while Fager finished his first tournament run with an 0-2 record.
Garner (14-8), Cook (7-7) and Rauser (10-3) automatically qualified for the NCAA Championships at the NCAA West Regional/Western Wrestling Conference Championships that UVU hosted on March 8. Fager (18-7) then received his second straight bid to nationals by getting picked up as an at-large selection a few days later.
Garner was Utah Valley's lone conference champion this year as he received First Team All-WWC accolades for winning the 141-pound weight class at the West Regional. Cook and Rauser placed second and third, respectively, to receive automatic bids in their weight classes while Fager — who was ranked 12th on the final NCAA Coaches' Panel Rankings and 15th on the final RPI — then picked up the at-large bid after taking second at heavyweight at the Regional.
This weekend will mark the fifth consecutive year UVU will be competing at the NCAA Championships as it sent three grapplers to nationals in 2010, three again in 2011, one in 2012 and three again last season. Former 125-pounder Benjamin Kjar is the program's lone All-American as he placed fourth in his weight class during his senior campaign (2011).
The three-day, six-session national tournament will take place at the home of the Oklahoma City Thunder this year, the Chesapeake Energy Arena. All six sessions will be broadcast live on ESPN3, and each mat/match can be viewed for the first time by visiting its website. All six sessions will also be televised for the first time as sessions I, II, III and V will be live on ESPNU, while sessions IV (semifinals) and VI (finals) will be broadcasted on ESPN.
Following Thursday's opening session, session II will get underway that evening at 6. Friday's third session will then begin at 10 a.m. CT, while the fourth session/semifinals will take place at 7 p.m. The fifth session/medal rounds will begin Saturday at 10 a.m. CT, while the finals/sixth session will be held Saturday in primetime on ESPN at 7 p.m. CT.
Fager will enter the tournament seeded 15th in his weight class, while the other four will enter their respective fields of 33 unseeded. Rauser and Cook received tough draws to open the tournament as they face the first and second seeded wrestlers in their weight class. Rauser will take on the defending national champion and top seed from Illinois in Jesse Delgado (25-2), and Cook will go up against the No. 2 seed from Oklahoma State in Tyler Caldwell (24-3). Garner will open up his inaugural NCAA's against No. 15 Anthony Collica (28-7) of Oklahoma State, while the 15th-seeded Fager will take on Rutgers' William Smith (25-6) in his opening bout.
"(To become an All-American) is always the dream of the kids. That's the hope. It's what we work for," Williams said.
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit www.WolverineGreen.com.