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The Antelope

Wrestling prepares for 2019-20 national championship

antelope issue 7


Hard work, determination, and the will to succeed are three attributes that have propelled UNK wrestling into the elite category in Division II. The Lopers begin the season rated No.4 and look to keep improving every day, in order to peek at the national championships in February.

“We’ve been top eight at the national championships for eighteen years straight and I think any of those years we were capable of winning the tournament, but it comes down to who performs best on those two days,” said UNK coach Dalton Jenson. “That’s what we’re geared towards, getting our guys to peak perform for two days straight at the national tournament. We have the right guys who are capable of bringing home a team trophy, but again we have to make sure we keep guys healthy and keep them focused and improving.”

UNK is returning Matt Malcom, Josh Portillo, Wesley Dawkins, and Jarrod Hinrichs who were all national finalists a season ago. Their experience and effort in practice have helped elevate and improve the performance of the other wrestlers around them.

“Looking back at the last decade there have only been two times that there have been four national finalists from one team in one year and that’s been us twice. Coming into this year knowing that we have all those guys returning and that they don’t just have experience at the national tournament, but experience competing in the national finals, that’s huge. When you look at the weight classes, we had national finalist 25, 33, 57, and heavyweight, that means pretty much everybody in our room at some point during practice is wrestling one of them,” Jenson said.

Even though some of the faces will be similar on the Lopers wrestling team this year, they will be changing the weight they wrestle at. For example, Malcom who is the defending national champ at 157 is moving up to 165 pounds.

“This year I was on the fence on what I wanted to do, I know I could have kept doing great things down at 157 but when we looked at the team we thought we would have a lot better chance if I was to move up and let someone fill in for where I was at,”  Malcom said. 

He is excited about the move up in weight this year. It has given him a new challenge and the opportunity to prove his versatility. 

“Moving up is a completely different animal, I haven’t done anything yet. Currently, I am 1-2 at 165 pounds. It’s a whole different ball game and I kind of learned that this last weekend. Coming into this year I don’t know if there is anybody that I have wrestled at 165 pounds,” Malcom said.

The Lopers open the season with one of the toughest schedules in Division II. They have wrestled at the Wyoming Cowboy open, dueled against the No.4 team in Division I Nebraska and will wrestle at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas invite Dec.6-Dec.7. UNK is of two teams at the meet who are not Division I.

“I am pretty confident in saying that we have the toughest non-Division I schedule in the country. On the one side, it’s probably not very nice for our staff, because we’re basically hand-feeding our guys four or five loses during the year, but I think you learn more from the losses. We don’t want to protect our guys, we want to give them a Division I like schedule,” Jenson said. 

From the outside looking in, 2020 looks to be a special year for the Loper wrestling program. UNK looks to be solid from 125 all the way up to 285 IBS. 

“It starts with us four who made nationals, then we got some transfers in and we have a bunch of guys on our team that are just hungry. I think all those weights that weren’t filled from last year are filling in this year. It’s nice having us four back but it’s even better having six other guys who are ready step up and fill in those holes we had last year,” Malcom said.

The Lopers next stop to begin the season is at the Swede Open in Lindsborg, Kansas hosted by Bethany College on Nov. 16.  

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