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NCAA Super Region VI: Wrestling team shatters program record with 175.5 points

UNK ATHLETICS Matches went all day Saturday and ended with the Lopers taking home the regional title.

The UNK wrestling team broke a program record with 148 points at the NCAA Super Regionals two years ago. This year, the Lopers shattered that record with 175.5 points in the NCAA Super Regional VI in Grand Junction, Colorado.

The Lopers qualified nine wrestlers with eight of them placing first.

“It was a really strong performance by our guys qualifying nine,” said UNK wrestling coach Dalton Jensen. “Overall, guys performed really, really well.”

After getting pinned in the regional championship match last year, Josh Portillo came out on top this year, pinning Cody Fatzinger of Western Colorado at 125 pounds. Portillo is one of the super seniors who used their COVID year to come back and wrestle.

“(Portillo) went into nationals last year and came up one match short of All-American status where he was going for his fourth time to be an All-American,” Jensen said. “I think that kind of stung him, and he’s had a couple losses this year he’s had to learn from. He was able to bounce back in the regional bracket today and looked great.”

The Lopers made a switch earlier this year by moving Austin Eldredge down to 174 pounds and moving Billy Higgins up to 184 pounds. That move proved to be effective as both wrestlers placed first on Saturday.

“After that National Dual Tournament, we kind of brought in Austin Eldredge and said ‘What are your thoughts about going down?’” Jensen said. “He said that he would love to do that. I think the way he matches up with 174 pounders, he could be a frontrunner to go win the national title.”

Eldredge has now won 11 matches in a row via technical fall. 

Although the switch has led to many wins for Higgins, it is still not an easy thing to do.

“I would stay out of practice and get some extra lifts in and kind of force-feed myself to get up a weight,” Higgins said. “After being there for a month I kind of settled in and actually put on some more weight so it’s been going very well.” 

Higgins transferred in from Northern Colorado this year.  

“Coach Jensen, Coach Sorenson and the UNK community kind of opened their arms to me and gave me a new home,” Higgins said. “I’m just really grateful that I could do something for them.”

Wesley Dawkins, Nick James, Hayden Prince and Lee Herrington all placed first as well for the Lopers. James won all four of his matches by fall.

Matt Malcom was the other Loper to place first, and he has the team’s best record at 26-2.

“He’s clicking on all cylinders right now,” Jensen said. “He’s looking really solid. It’s been since 2019 since he won his last NCAA Championship. I think he’s excited to have an opportunity to end his career on top of the podium.”

Sam Turner qualified, placing second at 149 pounds as he lost 3-2 to Noah Hermosillo of Adams State in the championship match. 

Jacob Wasser was the lone Loper who did not qualify. He was beaten in the quarterfinals by Mason Boutain of San Francisco State. Wasser battled back to get into the third-place match in a rematch against Boutain. The match ended up going into overtime with Boutain getting the win in sudden victory.

“It obviously hurts leaving one of our guys home not qualifying at 157,” Jensen said. “He was right there — had great performances. It was the best he looked all year. Just didn’t quite get it done today. He was an All-American last year and that will never be taken away from him.”

The Lopers may be peaking at the right time as the National Championship gets closer.

“We had some guys that had to go win some gritty matches today and beat some guys that have beaten them this year,” Jensen said. “Just really happy and proud of the guys and how they performed.”

Top-ranked Central Oklahoma qualified eight wrestlers and defending National Champion St. Cloud State qualified seven. The NCAA Division II Championships will take place March 11-12 in St. Louis, Missouri.

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