By virtue of making the finals of the Big 12 Championships, Utah Valley University wrestler Dustin Dennison will be competing in this week’s NCAA Division I wrestling tournament in St. Louis, Missouri.
The national tournament starts today and ends on Saturday with the top eight placers earning All-American honors.
Dennison, a Diné who has roots from Rock Springs, N.M., finished second to top seed Austin Schafer of Oklahoma State University in the conference’s heavyweight division at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma two weeks ago in a 9-0 decision.
“We’ve been in the Big 12 for two years and Dustin was the first one to make the finals of the Big 12,” UVU head coach Greg Williams said in a telephone interview on Tuesday afternoon. “Last year our highest placement in the conference was third so Dustin now has the highest place finisher since we’ve been in this conference.”
Dennison came into the Big 12 tournament seeded third and on the final day of the competition he posted two wins, including 6-0 upset win over Oklahoma’s Ross Larsen, the No. 2 seed and a four-time NCAA qualifier.
“It’s pretty cool that I made the finals but I wish the outcome was a little different,” Dennison said. “Knowing that I can get there makes me want to push even harder for next year because I want to be the Big 12 champion. I know I can do it and I’ll try to make some big improvements for next season.”
This past season, he saw significant progress from his sophomore season as he picked up nine more wins with a team-best 22-8 record.
“He had some really good wins this year not just more wins but against quality guys,” Williams said. “He’s beat some ranked guys and you know Dustin has an extreme work ethic. He works hard year round. We do a lot during the spring and summer training to prepare for this season and he worked a lot with his technique and he worked a lot on his conditioning.”
All that hard work is paying off as Dennison was ranked as high as No. 26 in the country.
“I knew what I had to focus on and I implemented my offseason training to all of my matches,” he said. “I’m having a good season and I think those losses from last season really helped me.”