Wrestling team ranked No. 4 in preseason poll

Story by Sara

In 2009, the Baker University Athletic Department began a new era by introducing the wrestling program to its list of sports.

Since then, the Wildcats have worked their way up the ladder, and have claimed their highest ranking thus far.

In just its fourth year, the BU wrestling team is ranked No. 4 in the country, according the NAIA Coaches’ Preseason Poll. Although head coach Jimmy May said he is appreciative of the recognition, he said the team still has a lot of work to do.

“It’s a new year and we have a lot of new challenges,” May said. “So we’re not going to put much thought in being ranked fourth. We just want to work hard and do the best we can.”

Last season, the Wildcats ended their year at the highest level, the NAIA national tournament. The team finished 11th overall at the tournament, but snagged four All-American honors along the way.

Three of those All-Americans, seniors Brandon Gebhardt and Jarid Price and sophomore Robert Shadrach, return for Baker and will bring key experience along with them. But with a 67-man roster, May expects several wrestlers to perform well throughout the season.

“We have a number of young kids and even experienced kids who have the opportunity to be All-American,” May said. “We have some talented kids, but becoming an All-American takes a lot of work and sacrifice on their part.”

Gebhardt, who finished as the national runner-up in 2011, said the No. 4 ranking has been exciting for the team and has boosted its confidence in preseason training.

“Everybody is going to be out there raring to go and wanting to prove themselves, prove that the ranking is true,” Gebhardt said.

The Wildcats will try to show they are among the nation’s top teams Sunday as they begin their season with the Dan Harris Open at 9 a.m. in Collins Center.

Twelve teams have entered the tournament, and Gebhardt believes it will serve as a test for the Wildcats early in the season.

“It’s a nice way to get the cobwebs off our bodies, be able to stretch it out, see how we are feeling and see how the season is going to go,” Gebhardt said. “It will be a good test for the guys that are just coming in … and a good reminder for the people that are returning to keep at it and working on things they need to work on.”

Baker will have a challenging schedule throughout the year. The Wildcats take on the defending Big 12 champions, the University of Missouri, in a dual Nov. 14 and will head to Las Vegas, Nev., for the Desert Duals Dec. 16.

However, Price is confident in the team and believes the Wildcats can go farther this season than they have before.

“I think we can have an All-American in just about every weight class,” Price said. “We have such a tough team. We lost two seniors and picked up a bunch of new guys. It’s crazy how good our team could be this year.”