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UVU wrestling: Rauser places third at Big 12 Championship, qualifies for NCAA’s for fourth time

Utah Valley senior Jade Rauser (top) looks to turn Oklahoma State's Gary Wayne Harding to his back just prior to pinning him in the third-place match. He led the way for the Wolverines by placing third at the 2016 Big 12 Championship on Sunday in Kansas C
Utah Valley senior Jade Rauser (top) looks to turn Oklahoma State's Gary Wayne Harding to his back just prior to pinning him in the third-place match. He led the way for the Wolverines by placing third at the 2016 Big 12 Championship on Sunday in Kansas City.
Mike Smith, MatShots

Senior 133-pound Utah Valley University wrestler Jade Rauser punched his ticket to the NCAA Championships for the fourth time of his career by taking third at the 2016 Big 12 Championship on Sunday morning at the Sprint Center.

Rauser led the way for the Wolverines at their first-ever trip to the Big 12 Championship by going 3-1 with wins over Josh Martinez of Air Force, Brance Simms of South Dakota State and Gary Wayne Harding of Oklahoma State.

"Jade has really wrestled well the second half of the year. He's taken care of some injuries and is starting to feel good out on the mat," head coach Greg Williams said. "He truly dictated a couple of those last matches here against guys in the top 20 and we're super pleased with his outcome."

In a must win match in the consolation semifinals on Sunday morning for the fourth-seeded Rauser, the 133-pound senior came through by earning a hard-fought 10-6 decision over a familiar foe in the three seed and 18th-ranked Josh Martinez of Air Force. Rauser was the aggressor in the contest, as he picked up two first-period takedowns, another in the second and a final in the third to seal the victory. He also added a quick escape point in the second stanza along with a riding time point to take the bout by four points and move into the third-place match.

With an automatic bid to nationals on the line, Rauser then became the program's first-ever four-time NCAA qualifier by pinning the six seed and 21st-ranked Gary Wayne Harding of Oklahoma State in the first period (2:16) to place third at the 2016 Big 12 Championship. Following an early takedown, Rauser dropped Harding on his back in the center of the mat to secure the fall and the third-place finish.

Fellow Wolverine seniors Derek Thomas (197 pounds) and Chasen Tolbert (125) just missed out on qualifying on Sunday, as they sit back and hope to receive at-large selections to the 2016 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships after placing fifth and sixth, respectively, at the Big 12 Championship. Thomas went 2-2 at the tournament en route to his fifth-place finish, while Tolbert finished 1-3 after having to take an injury default and a medical forfeit in his final two matches.

After dropping a 4-1 decision to the nine seed from Iowa State Pat Downey in the consolation semis on Sunday morning to enter the fifth-place match, Thomas then picked up arguably his best victory of his career with a 4-2 overtime win over the top seed and eighth-ranked Jake Smith of West Virginia to place fifth. With the score tied at 2-2 in the first sudden-victory period, Thomas got ahold of Smith's legs and managed to muscle him down to the mat to secure the winning takedown with just three seconds to go in the stanza to pull out the overtime victory.

Following a 6-4 setback to the four seed and 16th-ranked Drew Templeman of Wyoming in the consolation semis on Sunday, Tolbert then wrestled the eight seed Kyle Larson in the fifth-place bout. Larson was declared the winner of that contest by injury default to set up a true sixth-place match between Tolbert and the nine seed from Air Force Drew Romero with an automatic bid to nationals on the line. The UVU senior 125 pounder then had to take a medical forfeit, as he now waits to see if he'll earn an at-large selection to make his second-straight appearance at nationals.

Five Wolverines in all placed in the top six at UVU's inaugural trip to the Big 12 Championship, as sophomore heavyweight Dustin Dennison and senior 174-pounder Ross Taylor placed fourth and fifth, respectively. Both Wolverine grapplers finished the conference tournament with 2-2 records en route to earning podium finishes.

Dennison and Taylor picked up big wins on Sunday morning to secure their placement, as Dennison defeated the six seed from Iowa State Joe Scanlan in overtime of the consolation semis and Taylor pinned the six seed Ross Renzi of West Virginia in the first period of the fifth-place bout to take fifth.

With Dennison's contest all tied at 1-all headed to the tiebreaker rounds, Scanlan picked up an escape point to take a 2-1 lead. Dennison then bounced back in the second tiebreaker period by earning a penalty point on a locked hands call and the go-ahead point on an escape to seal the victory. After dropping his consolation semifinal match to the two seed and 19th-ranked Matt Reed of Oklahoma in the 174-pound consolation semis, Taylor then earned his fifth-place finish by pinning WVU's Renzi in 2:31.

Five other UVU grapplers took part at the Championship but had their tournament runs cut short on Saturday. Junior Trevor Willson (149) and redshirt freshman Raider Lofthouse led the group by each going 1-2, while sophomores Jarod Maynes (141) and Brayden Humpherys (165) as well as freshman Will Sumner (184) finished with 0-2 showings.

As a team, the Wolverines finished in eighth place out of 10 teams with 60.5 points. Oklahoma State won the tournament, while Oklahoma took second and Iowa State third.

"The Big 12 Championship is bigger and better, and allows our wrestlers to compete against a higher level of competition," Williams said. "The treatment here in Kansas City has been amazing and this is a competitive conference that will keep getting better. Overall I was really proud of the guys for the effort that they put in this weekend. This team fought all year to improve and we're going to continue to get better."

At-large selections to the NCAA Championships will be announced on Wednesday, March 9. Following the conclusion of all qualifying events this weekend, the NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee will meet in person to select the remaining 46 at-large qualifiers. 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 2016 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships then take place March 17-19, at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.