Four Utah Valley University wrestlers not only earned podium finishes at the 2018 Big 12 Championship on Sunday, but they qualified for the 2018 NCAA Championships in the process as well.
Redshirt freshman 125-pounder Taylor LaMont and senior heavyweight Dustin Dennison led the way by both placing third, while sophomore 174-pounder Kimball Bastian took fifth and fellow sophomore Demetrius Romero (165 pounds) finished sixth.
LaMont and Dennison both posted 3-1 records en route to earning their respective third-place finishes, while Bastian went 4-2 and Romero finished with a 2-3 clip. The four NCAA Championship qualifiers ties a program high from 2014 when Curtis Abner Cook, Adam Fager, Avery Garner and Jade Rauser all competed that year for the Wolverines.
"We are proud of this young team and excited for the four guys that have earned an opportunity to go after All-American honors in two weeks," head UVU coach Greg Williams said. "Taylor, Kimball and Dustin wrestled two very solid matches today, and Demetrius did a nice job of bouncing back after a mental mistake cost him an opportunity to go for third. For him to win the wrestle-off for his spot after an emotional morning is a testament to his character and grit."
In LaMont's consolation semifinal bout versus the No. 5 seed from South Dakota State Connor Brown on Sunday, LaMont jumped out to a 5-1 advantage following a pair of takedowns in the opening period and an escape in the second. The 19th-ranked Brown then responded with a reversal early in the third to make it 5-3, but LaMont put the contest away with an escape, a takedown and a four-point nearfall to win by major decision (12-4) and enter the third-place bout.
The seventh-ranked Wolverine then matched up with the No. 6 seed and 20th-ranked Jay Schwarm of Northern Iowa in the third-place match. LaMont jumped out to an early 4-1 lead following a pair of quick takedowns, but Schwarm responded with an escape and a reversal to pull within 4-3. The second-seeded LaMont then added to his lead with a takedown in the second to take a 6-3 advantage. Schwarm then chose the top position in the third and looked to turn LaMont on his back, but a riding time point was all he could collect, as LaMont held on to win the third-place contest by a score of 6-4.
The 125-pound redshirt freshman LaMont (25-3) not only earned a third-place finish and automatic bid to nationals in his first opportunity, but he also went an impressive 3-1 at the event. LaMont's lone setback was an 8-5 decision to the No. 3 seed and former NCAA finalist Zeke Moisey of West Virginia in the semis.
Dennison too took third at the tournament after going a perfect 2-0 on the day. The fourth-seeded Wolverine heavyweight started his day with a 7-4 decision over the No. 7 seed Carter Isley of Northern Iowa in the consolation semis to advance to the third-place match. With just three auto bids to nationals in his weight class, Dennison then needed to get past the No. 2 seed and 2017 NCAA qualifier Marcus Harrington of Iowa State. Dennison did just that, as he held on late to knock off the second-seeded Harrington of Iowa State by a score of 6-5.
Dennison was the aggressor in the heavyweight third-place bout, as he collected a pair of first-period takedowns on his way to jumping out to a 4-2 lead. Harrington then bounced back with an escape and a takedown to tie the contest at 5-5 in the second. The 2017 UVU NCAA qualifier and 2017 Big 12 Championship runner-up then answered in the third with a go-ahead escape to take a 6-5 advantage. Dennison then managed to hold his lead the rest of the way en route to placing third and earning his second-straight trip to nationals. Dennison, who is now 30-9 on the season, too wrestled his way to a 3-1 record at the tournament. His lone loss was a semifinal setback to the top seed and 11th-ranked Derek White of Oklahoma State.
Bastian was next by finishing fifth in his weight class. The Wolverine 174-pound sophomore went 1-1 on the day en route to earning his first trip to the NCAA Championships.
In Bastian's first match of the day against the No. 2 seed and 10th-ranke Yoanse Mejias of Oklahoma, Mejias managed to pull out a controversial 2-1 contest to send the fifth-seeded Bastian to the fifth-place match. Tied at 1-1 in third period, Bastian looked to have picked up a takedown, but the call was reversed by a coaches challenge to leave the score tied at 1-all. Still tied with the clock winding down, the official whistled for a questionable stall call that awarded Mejias the go-ahead point with a mere five seconds remaining.
With five auto bids in his weight class, Bastian then did a nice job of bouncing back by winning the must-win fifth-place bout by major decision over the No. 8 seed from West Virginia Parker VonEgidy. Bastian had a six-point second period followed by an escape and a takedown in the third to take the contest by major decision. The Wolverine 174-pound sophomore improves to 19-9 on the year after going a solid 4-2 at the tournament.
After going 1-1 on Saturday, Romero then too started his journey in the consolation semis on Sunday. The third-seeded Wolverine sophomore dropped a tightly-contested 6-5 decision to the No. 5 seed Keilan Torres to fall to the fifth-place match. Romero then too fell to the No. 6 seed Dewaylon Barnes of Oklahoma by a score of 15-2 to enter a true sixth-place match with a total of six automatic qualifying spots to nationals in his weight class. After falling twice earlier in the session, Romero did a nice job of responding by defeating the No. 10 seed from West Virginia Isaiah Patton by a score of 6-2 to earn the Big 12's final spot to nationals in his weight class.
Romero improves to 25-6 on the season after going 2-3 at the tournament.
As a team, the Wolverines find themselves in eighth place in the team standings after three sessions of action with 50.5 points. Five-time defending conference champion Oklahoma State leads the tournament with 127 points, while Northern Iowa is in second with 92.5, South Dakota State third (90), Wyoming fourth (57), North Dakota State fifth (57), Oklahoma sixth (52), Iowa State seventh (51), West Virginia ninth (50), Northern Colorado 10th (30.5), Fresno State 11th (26.5) and Air Force 12th (22.5).
Six other Wolverines also took part in the tournament on Saturday, and all six had their 2018 runs come to the close during Saturday's second session. Durbin Lloren (133), Matt Findlay (141) and Tanner Orndorff (197) led the way by each going 2-2, while Matthew Ontiveros (149) and Gary Jantzer (184) went 1-2 and Raider Lofthouse (157) finished with a 0-2 showing.
"It is hard to see some guys on our team come up short," Williams added. "Fortunately all of them will be back next year and they will be better and more prepared."
At-large selections to the NCAA Championships will be announced later in the week.
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit GoUVU.com.