The Utah Valley University wrestling team will send a program-best five grapplers to the 2018 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships this week in Cleveland, Ohio. The national tournament will run Thursday to Saturday, March 15-17, at Quicken Loans Arena.
Taylor LaMont (125 pounds), Demetrius Romero (165), Kimball Bastian (174) and Dustin Dennison (197) earned automatic bids to the 2018 NCAA Championships at the Big 12 Championship earlier this month, and Tanner Orndorff (197) was picked up as an alternate, which turned into an at-large selection after someone had to withdraw from his weight class due to injury. This year will mark Dennison and Orndorff's second-consecutive appearance at nationals and the first for LaMont, Romero and Bastian.
All six sessions will be televised on the ESPN Family of Networks, and every match on every mat will be streamed live on ESPN3 (WatchESPN.com). Live results can also be followed via TrackWrestling. The first session gets underway on Thursday at 10 a.m. MT, and will be televised live on ESPNU.
"I'm excited for the five guys that will be going this week," head UVU coach Greg Williams said. "I feel like we could have gotten a few more, but our focus is on the five that have qualified. All five have earned this opportunity to get on the mat and compete against some of the best wrestlers in the country."
The 125-pound redshirt freshman LaMont leads the way for the Wolverines by entering the tournament as the No. 7 seed in his weight class. LaMont wrestled his way to a 25-3 record on the year, which includes a Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational title and a third-place finish at the Big 12 Championship. LaMont, who is currently ranked eighth on the latest NCAA Coaches' Panel Ranking and third on the RPI, will open his inaugural appearance at nationals against Northern Illinois' Brock Hudkins (17-10). The No. 7 seed is the highest seed that any Wolverine wrestler has earned in program history.
The 165-pound sophomore Romero too has had a strong season in his first year in a Wolverine singlet after wrestling to a 25-7 record. Romero wrestled his way back to post a true sixth-place finish at the Big 12 Championship and earn the final automatic bid to nationals in his weight class. He is currently ranked 22nd on the latest NCAA Coaches' Panel Ranking and 16th on the RPI. He enters the tournament unseeded and will take on No. 11 Isaiah White of Nebraska (23-6) in the opening round.
The 174-pound sophomore Bastian earned his automatic bid by placing fifth at the 2018 Big 12 Championship. Bastian went 4-2 at the tournament to improve his season tally to 19-9. Bastian enters his first trip at nationals against a familiar foe by matching up against No. 11 David Kocer of South Dakota State (24-6) in the opening round. Bastian is currently ranked 28th by the coaches and 24th on the latest RPI.
The 197-pound sophomore Orndorff earned his second-consecutive trip to nationals after being named the first alternate in his weight class. Orndorff holds a 21-13 record on the year and posted a 2-2 outing at the Big 12 Championship. The Wolverine sophomore, who is currently ranked 32nd by the coaches and 25th on the latest RPI, went 1-2 at the NCAA Championships a season ago. Orndorff opens against the top seed and 2017 All-American Kollin Moore of Ohio State (22-2).
The senior heavyweight Dennison will head back to nationals for the second-straight season after taking third at the 2018 Big 12 Championship to earn an auto bid for the second time. Dennison holds a career-best 30-9 record on the year and enters the tournament ranked 28th on the latest NCAA Coaches' Panel Ranking and 31st on the RPI. The 30 wins are good enough to tie for fourth on the UVU single-season record books, and with that many wins on the year, Dennison now sits in second place all-time in wins at Utah Valley with 90 for his career (90-52). The Wolverine heavyweight enters nationals in a rematch from the semifinals of the Big 12 Championship by taking on No. 9 Derek White of Oklahoma State (23-2).
"This is a solid group of guys and they will go out and compete no matter what the caliber of the opponent is that standing in front of them," Williams added. "We have our work cut out for us, but these guys are all hard workers and won't back down from anybody. All five guys will go out to win and to get on that podium."
The Wolverines finished the regular season with an 8-6 record and tied for fifth in the Big 12 with a 4-4 league record. UVU, which earned its first top-25 ranking in program history by being ranked No. 25 late in the season, went on to post an eighth-place finish at the Big 12 Championship with 50.5 total points.
UVU all-time at the NCAA Championships
Utah Valley has now claimed 26 NCAA qualifiers in its nine seasons of competition as a full-fledged NCAA Division I member. The Wolverines have had at least one wrestler compete at nationals in the past nine seasons, and the five that will be going this year marks a program high. UVU has crowned two All-Americans in program history in Benjamin Kjar (125) in 2011 and Jade Rauser (133) in 2016. Kjar reached the semifinals in 2011 en route to placing a program-best fourth that season, while Rauser reeled off an impressive four-match winning streak in 2016 on his way to taking eighth.
NCAA Championships format
Each weight class consists of 33 wrestlers for a grand total of 330 grapplers at the championship event and will be competed under a double-elimination format. The three-day NCAA Championships will feature two sessions of wrestling each day. This year's national tournament opens on Thursday with sessions at 10 a.m. MT and 5 p.m. The tournament then continues with the quarterfinals on Friday at 9 a.m., and the semifinals at 6 p.m. The medal rounds take place on Saturday at 9 a.m., and the championship finals conclude the event on Saturday at 6 p.m.
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit GoUVU.com.