Texas Set Up for 2014 Title Run
By Scott Farrell
The University of Texas wrestling club enjoyed the finest season in its 16-year history during the 2012-13 campaign. It’s been a long climb for one the inaugural members of the National Collegiate Wrestling Association to finally reach the top 10 for the first time. Texas placed ninth in the NCWA’s Division II for emerging programs.
Now positioned with an off-season to catch their breath, the Longhorns are poised to continue their ascent toward becoming one of the NCWA’s stalwarts next year and beyond. Texas has always possessed potential as the state’s flagship university with a nationally-recognized brand. But the pieces to a championship puzzle have never been so aligned as they are now with eight national qualifiers returning next year.
Texas thought it had the formula right and ready to go at last month’s NCWA Championships after it qualified all nine of its members following its first Southwest Conference championship. That by itself was a well-earned benchmark of improvement. And nationally, the Longhorns had improved each season from 45th in 2009 all the way to 12th in 2012.
But too many early losses at nationals dampened their fortunes, and the Longhorns had to settle for ninth without anyone wrestling on the final day of the tournament.
“We thought we were ready to contend for the national title,” Texas head coach Bob Moore said. “We got one round further than we did in the past with most of our guys, but as a whole it turned out to be a learning experience.”
Moore scheduled Texas to face its toughest regular season in the program’s history, as the Longhorns took on NCAA and NAIA schools in a host of open tournaments. The quality of competition, and the wins that Texas saw against those opponents, paid off with the conference championship and a heightened sense of confidence.
“The success we had in the regular season speaks for itself,” said Moore, a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame who earned a Lifetime Service to Wrestling Award in 2010. “But the biggest step we took this year was gaining the confidence of getting out there and expecting to win. Our mindset within the program changed, and it took three years to do it. We went into (nationals) with the aim of winning the Division II title. And it was a realistic goal, perhaps for the first time.”
Two Longhorns reached the third championship round, and three others ended the tournament losing to eventual All-Americans. Jordan Hildreth scored two pins in his four matches, a first for a Texas wrestler at nationals.
Texas loses only heavyweight John DeMis off the roster for next season, but it’s a big one. DeMis reached the round of 16 in 2011 when he led the Longhorns to a top-20 finish for the first time since 2000. Moore said DeMis will still be enrolled at Texas next year and will be an assistant coach.
Six juniors will be back for their senior seasons, including Jordan Bridgers, who moved to as a high as ninth in the national 184-pound rankings during the season. Hildreth (157) and Carlson (165) were also ranked in the top 16 at their weights at one point in the season.
Three other juniors return in Hampton Roese (141) and Neevan Razavi (174) and Michael Mahoney (197) to along with freshmen Antonio Martinez (133), who was nationally-ranked most of the season, and Max Gove (149).
That’s most of Texas’ lineup represented in last year’s national rankings. And there’s still room for more in Texas’ starting lineup if recruiting goes well.
Recruiting has already been fruitful in the Longhorns’ first-year women’s program, where Rachel Rawlings took second at 112 pounds to earn Texas’ first All-American medal last year. Kaitlin Paveglio placed fourth at 148 pounds as the other half of the two-woman team.
“We expect to have 8-10 women next year, and if they’ll stay together, there’s a growing enthusiasm about watching both teams contend at the 2014 nationals,” Moore said.
Back on the men’s side, the Longhorns haven’t had an All-American since Doug Rivas took eighth overall at 174 pounds in 2009, and its only national champion came in 2000 when Jeff Gunlicks won the 165-pound title in a 33-team field. They expect that to change next season.
“We’re primed now to take another next step and have a bunch of our guys become All-Americans,” Moore said. “What a great way for our returning seniors to go out with medals on their necks. That’s the goal, and if we achieve it and get a handful of All-Americans, then our goal in regard to the standings will take care of itself.”