Seven wrestlers to compete at nationals

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Seven wrestlers to compete at nationals

Story by Sara

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Five years ago, senior Jarid Price never imagined he would be wrestling at the collegiate level, let alone become an NAIA All-American.

Despite his original doubts, Price will be one of seven athletes on the Baker University wrestling team who will compete among the country’s elite wrestlers Friday and Saturday in the NAIA Wrestling National Championships.

“This is a big deal for me,” Price said. “Going from never qualifying for state in Nevada to a two-time national qualifier … I have only been going up ever since being at Baker. It has done so much for me, and I am really excited to finish out my career at the top of the game.”

Senior Alan Callahan, junior Joel Olivas, sophomore Nick Haugen, senior Nathan Sommer, senior Parker Owen and senior Brandon Gebhardt will join Price at the national championships in Des Moines, Iowa.

While the Wildcats have been conditioning for this particular tournament over the past few weeks, head coach Jimmy May said the athletes have been preparing for these matches throughout their wrestling careers.

“A lot of these kids have spent their whole lives getting ready for these moments,” May said. “It’s not just the time they’ve spent at Baker. These kids have been wrestling since they were 5 or 6 years old, so getting ready for the national tournament is a special time for them.”

Nationals will serve as the last collegiate matches for five of the seven Wildcats competing, and although it is a bittersweet moment, Callahan said it provides additional fuel to push through these final weeks.

“There’s definitely some pressure there, but it definitely makes you want to be well prepared,” Callahan said. “It’s nationals, so you definitely want to set the bar high and bring home some hardware.”

In the 2012 national tournament, Baker snagged four All-American honors and finished 11th overall. While improving upon these marks will not be an easy task, the Wildcats are optimistic about their chances.

“We’re excited about having these seven kids getting ready for nationals,” May said. “We’re just going to work hard and do the best we can once we get there.”<br/>

After a change in national-qualifying format, the Wildcats were only able to advance to nationals based on their performances in the NAIA Central Qualifying Group Tournament Feb. 16 in Collins Center.

Six Wildcats placed in the top three of their weight classes, but it was not enough to top No. 1 Grand View University, No. 8 Missouri Valley College and No. 9 Oklahoma City University.

“I thought we wrestled some of our best matches of the season,” May said. “We won a lot of close matches, and the kids wrestled tough against some of the better competition in the country. So I was very pleased with our teams’ effort.”

During the central regional, Callahan worked his way to winning the third-place match on a 9-2 decision over Central Baptist’s Travis Shelnutt.

Olivas swept his way through the 141-pound bracket and landed a spot in the championship match. However, Gustavo Martinez of Grand View claimed a 6-2 victory over Olivas.

Haugen earned a bid to nationals in the 149-pound weight class after winning the third-place match on a 6-4 decision.

After earning a bye in the first round of the 165-pound bracket, Sommer fell on a 5-3 decision in his first match of the day. The senior fought his way back, though, pinning back-to-back opponents. Sommer then dropped his next two matches, earning him a sixth-place finish. His performance earned him an at-large bid to nationals.

Owen added to the Wildcats’ list of top finishers by winning the third-place match in the 174-pound weight class. He earned a 4-3 victory over Grand View’s Cody Swim.

Price, 184 pounds, also earned a third-place finish over OCU’s Cody Sivertsen on a 5-3 decision.

In a rematch of last season’s national championship, No. 1 heavyweight Gebhardt was pinned by No. 2 Eric Thompson during the regional’s first-place match.

The central regional served as the final tournament for most of the Wildcats, and May was pleased with how the program’s fourth season played out.

“It’s been a good year,” May said. “Our kids … rose to the occasion and accepted a number of challenges we put in front of them.