The Fresno State wrestling team competed in its first-ever Big 12 Championships this weekend at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Two Bulldogs placed, but as of now only one will move on to the 2018 NCAA Championships in Cleveland on March 15-17.
Freshman heavyweight AJ Nevills is that one. On Saturday, he was able to punch Fresno State’s first ticket to the NCAA Championships since the program was revived after notching a fall in overtime over Iowa State’s Marcus Harrington.
“What a great moment for Fresno State wrestling and AJ to become the first Bulldog to break through to the NCAA Championships,” head coach Troy Steiner said Saturday. “We know he is the first in a long line of student-athletes who are going to achieve that feat, and we can’t wait to see him close the deal tomorrow with a Big 12 individual title.”
Unfortunately, Nevills was unable to close in on that title after a finals’ match against No. 1 seed Derek White of Oklahoma State.
Trailing 4-1 by the first period and 8-3 in the third period, Nevills eventually fell to a final score of 13-6 to finish runner-up in heavyweight.
Because the Big 12 has three automatic qualifiers to the NCAA Championships at heavyweight, Nevills’ season will continue.
He will go into the NCAA Championships with a 28-8 overall record and a 2-1 record from the Big 12 Championships after wins over No. 6 seed Alex Macki of North Dakota State and No. 2 seed Harrington.
Sophomore Josh Hokit also placed in the Big 12 Championships.
Although Hokit was unable to make it past the preliminaries on Saturday after falling to No. 6 seed Tanner Orndoff of Utah Valley by an 11-4 decision, he was able to fight forward in the Consolation Rounds.
He wrestled through Iowa State’s Sam Colbray and North Dakota State’s Cordell Eaton to make it to the Consolation Semifinals.
Hokit was a win away from an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships, but unfortunately for him, a video review determined his fate by disregarding his “takedown.” He eventually lost to Northern Iowa’s Jacob Holschlag, 1-0.
In the end, the two-sport athlete was able to take fifth place in his 197-pound weight class after a 3-1 decision over Oklahoma’s Andrew Dixon in the fifth-place match.
“This was definitely the hardest thing I have ever done, coming back into wrestling in January due to a successful football season, but I knew what I was getting myself into,” Hokit said via Twitter. He continued, “I just want to thank all the fan support and everyone that still believed in me when things weren’t going my way, but one thing you never do is count me out of anything I do.”
Although Fresno State’s Khristian Olivas lost to Oklahoma University’s Davion Jeffries on Friday in the quarterfinals and Air Force’s Robbins in 2nd Round Consolation, he still has a chance to secure one of the six wild card spots available.
They will be announced Tuesday afternoon.
Redshirt senior Sean Williams was also a win away from punching his ticket to the NCAA Championships.
After Williams knocked off North Dakota State’s Paul Bianchi in a 10-6 decision in the preliminaries, he fell to the Consolation Rounds after Utah Valley’s Taylor La Mont forced a 10-4 decision.
Still fighting for a chance, the senior made it to the seventh-place match against North Dakota State’s Bianchi. The winner would automatically qualify for the NCAA Championships.
Having defeated Bianchi 6-1 the previous day, Williams was unable to do it again as he fell by a 9-6 decision.
In the end, the Bulldogs collected a total of 26.5 points in the Big 12 Championships to give them 11th place.
“What a great experience to get this opportunity to compete in a championship-level environment,” Steiner said. “It will be a great learning experience for the future and will be something we can build off of.”