With five starters sidelined due to injury, the Utah Valley University wrestling team found itself on the wrong end of a 22-20 Big 12 Conference contest to Northern Colorado on Friday evening at Lockhart Arena.
An early fall and a forfeit proved to be the difference, as UVU (8-6, 4-4 Big 12) couldn't overcome a quick 12-0 hole. The Wolverines pulled within two team points twice on the night, but they ended up dropping the regular-season finale and Senior Night contest to the Bears (3-9, 2-5 Big 12) despite winning four of the final six matches on the night.
"When you get to the middle and end of the season, most teams have guys out of their lineup. You have to have guys in your room that can step up when your starters are out. So that's what we have to get better at," said head UVU coach Greg Williams.
"Overall I was pleased with how we wrestled tonight. I thought that most of our guys went out and fought. I'm proud of our guys and now we need to get healthy for conference and see if we can do some damage there and get some guys to nationals."
With the contest beginning at 157 pounds, the Bears got off to a strong start thanks to a first-period fall from Tyler Kinn and a forfeit at 165 pounds to open up a quick 12-0 lead.
Seventeenth-ranked sophomore Kimball Bastian then answered for the Wolverines with a 12-3 major decision over UNC's Seth Bogulski to make it a 12-4 team score. With Bastian holding a 6-2 lead in the third period, the UVU sophomore made his move with a penalty point, a pair of late takedowns and an additional riding time point to record the bonus-point win and improve to 15-7 on the season.
Northern Colorado's 19th-ranked Dylan Gabel then responded with a 6-1 decision over UVU's Will Sumner at 184 pounds to extend UNC's advantage to 15-4. The large advantage was short-lived, however, as Utah Valley bounced back with back-to-back wins at 197 and heavyweight to pull within two at 15-13.
No. 33 sophomore Tanner Orndorff started the spurt for the Wolverines with a second-period fall over Tanner Davis in 4:43. With the UVU 2017 NCAA qualifier holding a 9-2 lead in the second stanza, Orndorff (19-11) tackled Davis flat on his back and quickly pinned him to cut the deficit to 15-10. In his final home match, the senior and 27th-ranked Dustin Dennison followed with a hard-fought win over UNC's Robert Winters Jr. at heavyweight to pull UVU within two at 15-13. Trailing by a point in the final period, the 2017 Wolverine NCAA qualifier earned quick escape to tie the bout at 2-2 and send the match into overtime. In the first sudden victory period, Dennison secured a last-second takedown over Winters to earn a 4-2 overtime victory. Dennison's win is a career high and team-best 27th of the season (27-8), and it propels him into second place in the UVU all-time record books with 87 career wins.
"It's pretty cool," said Dennison. "It was really surreal to go out and get the victory in my final match at home. It means a lot, especially in front of a crowd with so many of my friends and family here. It was an exciting match, and it was awesome to get that takedown in overtime."
With sixth-ranked Taylor LaMont and Durbin Lloren out of the lineup due to injuries, Northern Colorado's Sean Cannon (125) and No. 25 Rico Montoya (133) then followed with consecutive wins for the Bears to give UNC a 22-13 advantage. Cannon first held on to defeat Josh Jensen at 125 pounds, 10-7, and Montoya followed with a high scoring final period en route to picking up a 14-4 major decision over senior Jarod Maynes at 133.
Redshirt freshman 141-pounder Matt Findlay then responded for the Wolverines with a 10-2 major decision over UNC's Benjamin Polkowske to make it 22-17 with one match to go. Holding a 7-2 lead in the third period, Findlay (9-7) picked up a late takedown and an additional riding time point to seal the bonus-point win and give the Wolverines a chance.
In a tightly contested 149-pound bout, junior Matthew Ontiveros pulled out a 5-2 victory over Jimmy Fate, but it wasn't enough as Northern Colorado managed to hold on to the 22-20 victory.
Prior to the dual, Utah Valley seniors Dennison, Maynes and Abel Gomez (197) were honored as part of Senior Night.
"All three of these seniors have been here for five years and have been so valuable to our team. Dustin has obviously had a lot of success on the mat, but I'm most proud of what they are doing in the classroom," Williams said. "All three of them have solid grade point averages, and Jarod is already working on his MBA and Abel is planning on going to medical school. They are all perfect examples of what student-athletes are supposed to be like here at Utah Valley and will be sorely missed."
The Wolverines now prepare for the 2018 Big 12 Championship that will be held March 3-4, at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. There, UVU will look to qualify as many of its grapplers as it can for the NCAA Championships that will run March 15-17, at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit GoUVU.com.