Utah Valley University wrestling sends three of its grapplers to the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships that runs Thursday through Saturday, March 19-21, at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri. This year marks the sixth-straight season that the Wolverines will wrestle at the national tournament.
Thursday's opening session gets underway at 10 a.m. MT, and will be televised live on ESPNU.
The three Wolverines that will compete at the NCAA Championships this weekend are senior Ethan Smith (174 pounds), and juniors Jade Rauser (133) and Chasen Tolbert (125). Smith and Tolbert head to the 'Big Show' for the first time in their respective careers, while Rauser competes at nationals for a program record third time. Rauser, who won the first conference title of his career a week and a half ago to qualify for the third-consecutive time, went 1-2 at the tournament in 2013 and 0-2 a year ago.
"Anybody can be beaten," head coach Greg Williams said. "Our guys are good wrestlers. It's one match at a time and you give it your best effort. I feel like all three of these guys have a chance to perform well and go out there and get on that podium."
Tolbert is the lone grappler of the group to enter the tournament seeded, as he enters as the No. 15 seed at 125 pounds.
Tolbert had a strong junior campaign in which he went 18-6 with eight victories over fellow foes in the NCAA Tournament. The junior from Delta, Utah (Delta HS), opens his 2015 NCAA run against Zeke Moisey (27-13) of West Virginia, who Tolbert lost to by a score of 14-10 at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational in early December. Tolbert placed third in a stacked 125-pound weight class at the NCAA West Regional/Western Wrestling Conference Championships to earn his automatic berth to the NCAAs. He was ranked 12th on the final RPI and 17th on the final NCAA Coaches' Panel Ranking.
Rauser heads to his third-straight NCAA Championships after leading the Wolverines in 2014-15 with a 21-6 record. The junior from Townsend, Montana (Broadwater HS), went a perfect 2-0 at the NCAA West Regional/WWC Championships to earn his automatic bid to nationals. Despite being his third-straight appearance at the 'Big Show', this year marks his first at 133 pounds as he bumped up a weight class this season. He opens the tournament against No. 10 Mason Beckman (25-5) of Lehigh. Rauser was ranked 21st in his weight class on the final RPI and 25th on the most recent NCAA Coaches' Ranking
The senior Smith earned his first berth to the NCAAs after placing second in his weight class at the conference tournament. Smith picked up a huge overtime win over the top seed Andy McCulley of Wyoming in the semifinal match by a score of 3-1 in sudden victory to reach the finals. He then placed second after dropping the title bout by injury default to earn an automatic bid at his weight class to nationals. The senior from Midway, Utah (Wasatch HS), who is 14-12 on the season, enters the tournament in the pigtail round on Thursday morning against Indiana's Nathan Jackson (27-11).
"My expectations are for them to wrestle their very best matches (at the NCAA Championships)," Williams said. "Last week was the best that these three have ever wrestled, and the goal is that they will be even better this week."
This weekend marks the sixth-consecutive year that UVU will compete at the national tournament as it sent three grapplers to the NCAAs in 2010 and 2011, one in 2012, three in 2013, and a program best four last year. 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 takes place this year at the Scottrade Center, which is home of the St. Louis Blues of the National Hockey League. All six sessions will be broadcast on the ESPN family of networks, and each mat/match can be viewed online by visiting WatchESPN. ESPN will televise the semifinals (March 20) and finals (March 21) in prime time, while ESPNU will televise the first and second rounds (March 19), the quarterfinals (March 20) and the medal round (March 21).
Following Thursday's opening session, session two gets underway at 5 p.m. on Thursday. Friday's third session/quarterfinals begin at 9 a.m., while the fourth session/semifinals takes place at 6 p.m. The fifth session/medal round begins on Saturday at 9 a.m., while the finals/sixth session is Saturday on ESPN at 6 p.m.
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.