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Wrestling makes its NCAA debut for Schreiner University

The sport is still relatively unique in Texas, but Schreiner's backers and coaches think it's time for that to change.

There's a particular look that most wrestling fans seem to possess — a crooked neck. In this situation, the fan assesses if a wrestler can position a hold and get the pin.

That's precisely the look that Schreiner University Dean of Students Charlie Hueber had on Saturday as the Mountaineers hosted their first-ever wrestling tournament as an NCAA team.

Schreiner University's Nicholas Hammond almost pins his University of Houston-Downtown opponent on Saturday. Instead, Hammond earned a major decision, 16-1.

Hueber's look wasn't just for the Mountaineers but for all of the matches he was watching, including club-level wrestlers from the University of Texas, Texas A&M and the University of Houston-Downtown.

"He's the reason we have wrestling," said Schreiner University Athletic Director Bill Raleigh of Hueber, who also oversees the athletic department.

This year marks the first time that Schreiner will compete in the NCAA — the first and only program in Texas to compete in the Division III level. For years, the Mountaineers have been a force on the collegiate club wrestling level, especially women.

Schreiner's Cristal De Santiago did not make the women's team trip to Michigan, but stayed home and pinned her University of Houston-Downtown opponent.

While the men's team was at home, the women's team competed in the Adrian College Duals in Michigan. The Mountaineers scored a decisive 26-19 victory against Adrian to win the tournament.

The women's program has six wrestlers ranked in the top 25 in their respective weight classes — at any level in the country.

The women ranked are Mikayla Mata (170 pounds), Allicia Mahoe (109 pounds), Jazlyn Ruelas (116), Kamille Begeal (123), Serena Cervantes (130) and Megan Thomas (155).

Under the direction of Troy Jewell, who oversees both programs, Schreiner has produced a national team title in 2019 in the National Collegiate Wrestling Association and at four individual champions.

Jewell hired Mario Vasquez to coach the men, while Madison Angelito coaches the women. The three are looking to continue building on the university's club success, which was validated by a strong performance earlier this year at the U.S. under-23 Folkstyle Championships, where eight Schreiner athletes gained all-American status.

First-year men's coach Mario Vasquez is a former Texas high school state champion and believes the sport is on the rise in the state.

"I feel we can really do a lot," Vasquez said of his men's team. "I think we can compete for a conference title right away. It may be far fetched for a team (NCAA) title, but I think I can place one or two national qualifiers."

One of Schreiner's first challenges is recruiting a sport that has limited visibility in Texas. In 2019, just 365 high schools fielded wrestling programs — about one-third of the high schools in the state. However, girls wrestling is one of the state's fastest-growing sports, with more than 4,400 girls wrestling at the high school level — doubling in size since 2011. Texas high school girls wrestling is second only to California in terms of participation.

Most of Texas' high school programs reside in major cities. The sport is a non-factor here in Kerr County. Most of Schreiner's talent comes from San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, El Paso and Houston.

"That's going to change," said Hueber, adding he thought Tivy would be good at the sport. "It's growing. More and more high schools are adding it."

In a battle of power, Schreiner University's Roberto Hernandez prevailed over Texas' Jarrod Brown in the heavyweight division.

While participation, at least on the boys' side, is relatively flat, a lot of it is driven by those interested in mixed martial arts, where wrestling holds are just as important as punching or kicking power. In a 2019 article, wrestler Sebastian Rivera compiled the list of the backgrounds of current and former Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholders. Rivera found that 28 had prior collegiate or Olympic experience — the most of any martial art.

"One theory for the comparative dominance of wrestling is the advantage wrestlers have in close combat," wrote Rivera, who wrestled for Northwestern University and Rutgers University. "Fighters with striking backgrounds can find it hard to defend themselves from wrestling takedowns. Additionally, while wrestling may lend itself to dramatic knockouts as much as other disciplines, wrestling might be less exciting but more effective, as wrestlers can outlast opponents and gain an advantage on the canvas."

Schreiner's Naseer Willis drives his Texas A&M opponent into the mat.

Hueber agrees with the MMA assessment and sees it as a way the sport will grow, and his hopes for wrestling at Schreiner are high.

"We want to establish ourselves as the best program in Texas," said Hueber, who wrestled for Texas A&M's club program.

Hueber and Raleigh acknowledge that wrestling remains an uphill battle in a state where football reigns supreme. State associations sanction emergent sports for boys like rugby, lacrosse, water polo, and volleyball in other states. Not in Texas, where the big three of baseball, basketball and football remain dominant.

Hueber said the growth of youth programs would likely change that tide. More than 90 Texas high schools have added wrestling in the last 10 years, and more than 10,000 boys compete in the sport.

Will that result in success for Schreiner? Vasquez certainly feels so, and he was thrilled to be wrestling at home for the first time.

"I'm recruiting Texas, of course, because my thing let's bring some Texas pride back, and we want to build Texas into a program that we can be proud of," said Vasquez, who was a state champion at Amarillo's Palo Duro High School. "But I am recruiting out of New Mexico and out of Iowa. I'm recruiting from any other place because those kids are attracted to our program as well."


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