The NCAA released updated Coaches' Panel Rankings and Rating Percentage Index (RPI) on Thursday, and six Utah Valley University grapplers made the cut. The organization also announced that the Big 12 Conference has been awarded 45 automatic bids to the 2018 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships that will be determined at next week's Big 12 Championship.
Redshirt freshman 125-pounder Taylor LaMont (22-2) led the way for the Wolverines, as he is the top-rated wrestler in the nation in the latest RPI, as well as ranked seventh in the current Coaches' Panel Ranking. Sophomore 165-pounder Demetrius Romero (23-4) is next, as he is tabbed fifth on the current RPI and No. 16 by the coaches, while sophomore 174-pounder Kimball Bastian (15-7) is rated 20th on the RPI and 28th by the coaches, sophomore 197-pounder Tanner Orndorff (19-11) is 21st on the RPI and 31st on the coaches, 184-pound redshirt freshman Gary Jantzer (18-11) is 26th on the RPI and senior heavyweight Dustin Dennison (27-8) is ranked 27th by the coaches.
The six ranked wrestlers are the most Utah Valley has ever entered postseason competition with, and LaMont also becomes UVU's first grappler to finish the regular season ranked No. 1 in any poll.
The coaches' rankings are compiled by a vote of coaches representing each conference. For ranking purposes, coaches may only consider a wrestler that has been designated as a starter at a respective weight class. To be eligible for the rankings, wrestlers must have participated in at least five matches against Division I opponents in the weight class and have wrestled within the last 30 days.
To be eligible for an RPI ranking, a wrestler must have a minimum of 17 Division I matches at a given weight class.
The Big 12 Conference was awarded the third-most qualifier allocations in the country this season with 45 automatic spots. The Big Ten Conference led the way with a total of 80, while the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association was second with 47, the ACC was fourth with 34, the MAC was fifth with 25, the Pac-12 was sixth with 22, the Eastern Wrestling League was seventh with 18 and the Southern Conference was eighth with 12.
Each qualifying tournament was awarded spots per weight class based on current year data. Each wrestler was measured on the following: Division I winning percentage at the weight class, RPI and coaches' ranking.
For each wrestler that reached the threshold in at least two of the three categories, his qualifying tournament was awarded a qualifying spot in that weight class. Each qualifying tournament, with automatic qualifying status, was awarded a minimum of one wrestler per weight class, which will go to the tournament champion, even if they did not have any wrestlers reach at least two of the three thresholds. NCAA tournament spots for each qualifying event will be awarded at the tournament based solely on place finish.
After all the qualifying events have concluded, the NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee will meet in person to select the remaining 47 at-large qualifiers, which will be announced on March 6. All weight classes will consist of 33 wrestlers. The at-large selections will be made based on the following criteria: head-to-head competition, quality wins, coaches' ranking, results against common opponents, RPI, qualifying event placement and winning percentage.
The 2018 Big 12 Championship will be contested March 3-4, at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. There, the Wolverines will look to qualify as many of its grapplers for the 2018 NCAA Championships what will take place March 15-17, at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. A season ago, UVU sent a pair of wrestlers to nationals in Orndorff and Dennison.
Utah Valley recently finished its regular season with an 8-6 overall record and a 4-4 Big 12 dual clip. The eight-win season marks UVU's most wins since 2009-10, when it went 10-3, and the 4-4 Big 12 Conference mark is the Wolverines' most wins in the new league since joining the conference three seasons ago.
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit GoUVU.com.