Gator wrestlers eye chances at national championship
With the disappointment of both Dylan Phillipy and Isaiah Hurtado missing the national championships last year, the Gators wrestling team approaches the NCAA Division II Super Region Championships this year with a renewed focus on nationals.
After missing most of last season, including the regional meet, due to injury, Phillipy is back and ready to compete.
“It definitely was an eye-opener, I was top 12 in the nation two years ago and I thought I had it set,” said Phillipy regarding his injury that took him out for most of the previous season. “I was running fifth in the preseason of last year, so I kind of took it easy over the summer. I thought my spot was secured and as a result I got beat out. It just taught me to never take practice for granted and never take off-season for granted. I’m just giving it my all for my last season.”
Phillipy enters the regional tournament ranked as the No. 2 wrestler in the region, and No. 8 in the nation at 141 pounds.
Senior Hurtado also missed out on the national championship meet last year, as he placed fifth at regionals, one spot shy of qualification. But he’s put it behind him and is going into this year’s tournament with confidence.
“I’m much more motivated this year and am just grateful I have another year to compete,” said Hurtado. He ranks second in the region at 133 pounds.
Last year the top four to place in each weight class advanced to nationals. But this year only the top three in each weight class will advance, making it that much more difficult to place.
The conference regional takes place in Grand Junction, Colorado Feb. 28 through March 1. At an elevation of 4,500 feet, the Gators have incorporated intensified cardiovascular conditioning in order to beat the effects of the high altitude.
“We are trying to improve our cardiovascular endurance for this tournament,” said head coach Lars Jensen. The team has been incorporating sprints after every practice to build the necessary cardio endurance.
Jensen also explains that being mentally fit and composed is important in placing well. “Now that we are this close to regionals, we are going to do less training, working on more mental aspects,” he said.
In order to do well in regionals, the Gators tested themselves by competing against top competition.
“This year we wrestled three Division I teams,” said Jensen. “We weren’t successful, but we try to wrestle a really tough schedule to get the kids ready for regionals. That’s kind of been our philosophy since I’ve been here.”
The Gators have the talent and potential to send numerous wrestlers to nationals as seven other wrestlers join Hurtado and Phillipy to be ranked in the top eight of their region, including seniors Conrad Snell, Marc Collier and Zach Jimenez, and junior Andrew Reggi who is the No. 1 ranked wrestler in his region at 197 pounds.
“I think we are going to do amazingly,” said Phillipy. “We don’t really see a lot Midwest Division II opponents so we are probably going to open up a lot of eyes come regionals and nationals. Not a lot of us are ranked but we have got a lot of competition and wins under our belt.”