University of Northern Colorado wrestling needs a podium presence pronto06 Feb 2017
The University of Northern Colorado wrestling team needs an All-American — pronto. It’s no secret. It’s the bottom line in college wrestling. The entire UNC roster works toward that common goal — to be on the podium next month. That’s not to say a podium resident will cure all that ails the Bears. It will certainly help Troy Nickerson’s recruiting efforts when selling the program, an aspect that’s going to take longer than expected, especially as he works with much less that the maximum amount of scholarships allowed. Nickerson and his staff are exhausting themselves to return the wrestling culture that put UNC on the map several decades ago.
A healthy lineup — 184-pounder Dylan Gabel and 197-pounder Jacob Seely will help — will be a step in the right direction as the Bears fight to avoid being the wimps of the Big 12 Conference. Possible victories from that pair would have given the Bears a better chance against No. 14-ranked OU and a more legitimate reason for the 720 in attendance to give up their Sunday afternoon other than to witness what a top-20 team looks like. UNC’s duo of 125-pounder Trey Andrews and 165-poulder Keilan Torres took center stage on Sunday to sing the Bears’ praises after impressive victories against their University of Oklahoma opponents. Andrews put together seven solid minutes in a 6-1 victory over OU’s Christian Moody. Both came into the match ranked in the top 33 in the first of two coaches’ rankings that could go a long way toward selecting the field for the national championships. Torres turned in what was arguably his best match as a Bears wrestler, piling up takedown points and riding time to verify his No. 25 ranking against No. 11 Yoanse Mejias.
A handful of UNC wrestlers did nothing to help themselves plan their schedules after the Big 12 Championships from March 4-5 in Tulsa, Okla. UNC lightweights Rico Montoya (133 pounds) and 141-pounder Timmy Box hardly looked the part, both losing. Box, ranked No. 24, wasted an early takedown to OU’s No. 25 Mike Longo in route to a 7-2 loss. Montoya’s only point came via an escape in a 6-1 loss to OU’s Jocob Rubio in a match of two unranked wrestlers. Enough of the boring play-by-play jargon. Nickerson stays just this side of being politically correct when summarizing his team’s performance. “Where we fought, we wrestled well … and we won for the most part,” said Nickerson, who sugarcoated it a little when he explained that in some matches the Bears lost, they “were close.” Close is like qualifying for the national tournament but not placing. It quickly becomes yesterday’s news. Close won’t cut it in matches at California State Bakersfield and Cal Poly. The Bears wrestled at Bakersfield late Friday night (too late for results to appear here) and visit Cal Poly on Sunday.
The same holds true in the Bears’ final home match at 7 p.m. Feb. 8 against Wyoming, which recruits some of the same Colorado kids UNC does. “We’re having our best season to date,” Nickerson offered, based primarily on four wrestlers in the coaches rankings. Nickerson’s early signees are a sign that he’s building depth. Of course, they have to pan out. UNC followers deserve to see Seely on the mat instead of in the training room, where he’s rehabilitating recent shoulder surgery. Gabel needs to consistently perform as advertised. Andrews and Torres conceded they’ve come a long way from last month, sticking to the team’s motto of improving on a daily basis in the practice room. When asked if they think there’s some All-Americans in the room, both were confident with their answers. “We have guys in our room … Keilan included … that I can see placing high, not just placing, but placing high,” Andrews said. “Our room is overlooked because we have a lot of good guys.”
Torres, a junior, said his time is now, and cast his vote for several of his teammates. “I believe Timmy Box can get on there (the podium), I believe Trey can get on there,” Torres said. “Dylan Gabel. There’s a lot of kids in this room that are overlooked. “We may not look like it now, but we are getting a lot better. Kids on this team are going to keep grinding and we’re going to get on (the podium). I have to take the opportunity now … every time I step on the mat.” The distance between stepping on the mat at the NCAA Division I National Championships and stepping on the podium needs to shorten.