LARAMIE, Wyo. (Oct. 19, 2016) -- This is the first of a three-part series that will preview the 2016-17 Cowboy wrestling team. This release looks at the heavyweight, 197, 184 and 174-pound weight classes.
As the University of Wyoming wrestling team continues its practices ahead of the 2016-17 season, a number of questions regarding the upper weight classes are to be answered in the coming weeks. The Cowboys will have a few different faces manning those weights this year, as well as a group of experienced and talented returners that could see action in more than one weight class.
“We have the personnel and a number of guys that can jump from weight to weight, but when you lose somebody like Tanner Harms, who was a two-time NCAA qualifier, we know those are big shoes to fill," UW head coach Mark Branch said. "He was very much somebody that wanted to get better and be successful each day and we want to see that out of one of our heavyweights. I think it will come down to who wants it the most and has the hunger to be in the lineup. From practice and our first couple of duals, things will really pan out like they should and we’ll get a better idea of who is ready.”
Redshirt sophomore Sam Eagan leads the heavyweight class for the Pokes. He is joined by sophomore Danny Gordon and freshman Hunter Mullins. Eagan is coming off his redshirt season with a 7-4 record. He had two pins and won the Northern Colorado Open before taking fourth at the UNK Holiday Open last year.
“With the absence of Tanner (Harms), who has been our starter for a couple years, the heavyweight spot is wide open,” Branch added. “But when you look at the guys we have right now, Sam (Eagan) may be the one with the most match experience. He definitely wrestled well during the freestyle season last year and we hope he continues to improve.”
Gordon is coming off a 9-8 record during his first season wearing the Brown and Gold. He recorded three falls while taking part in four open tournaments, as he wrestled in the Cowboy Open, UNK Holiday Open, Bob Smith and Utah Valley Open. Mullins, a Puyallup, Wash., native will look to make an impact after he was a Fargo Cadet All-American in Greco and finished as the national runner-up in freestyle before coming to Laramie.
“We are pretty young for the heavyweights, and it shows with Danny (Gordon) and Hunter (Mullins),” Branch mentioned. “Hunter may have the best pedigree, but both have a long way to go when it comes to conditioning and adjusting to the Division I level. They will have plenty of opportunities to achieve that and we’ll see what they can do for us.”
In the 197 weight class, Brandon Tribble returns for his senior season. He recorded a mark of 17-14 during his junior year for the Pokes. At the Big 12 Championships a season ago, Tribble went 1-2 and now will look to secure his first NCAA berth in his last season for the Cowboys.
“I would say that Brandon (Tribble) is the guy right now,” Branch said. “In terms of depth, like many of the other weight classes we have guys that could jump up and compete at this level, but Tribble was able to stay healthy last year and we really like where he is at right now. He was resilient and has been solid for us, which we hope continues.”
Redshirt freshman Cody Vigoren is another Cowboy that could see action at 197. Vigoren competed in four different open tournaments as a freshman, compiling a 14-4 record. He had five falls for the Pokes, took second at the Northern Colorado Open, and won the UNK Holiday Open a year ago.
“I like what we have seen out of Cody (Vigoren) thus far,” Branch mentioned. “Although it may take time to see him in the lineup, he is another guy that wants to be out there competing for us.”
The 184 weight class is another area that multiple Cowboys could possibly be competing for. Junior Luke Paine, who went 15-10 primarily at the 174 weight class a season ago, will have ample opportunity to contend for this lineup spot. Paine placed third in the Northern Colorado Open and UNK Holiday Open, in addition to seeing action in the duals against Oklahoma, Northern Colorado and Utah Valley as a sophomore.
“I believe Luke (Paine) wants to go 184, as that’s where he thinks he can be strongest,” Branch added. “But he has to decide where he can compete best. He wants to be in the lineup and no doubt has been solid at 174 for us since he has been here.”
Joining Paine is senior Nate Shaw and Iowa Lakes Community College transfer Wesley Schultz. Shaw transferred from Northern Iowa before the 2015-16 season and has seen limited action for the Brown and Gold due to injuries. Schultz was an All-American and National Junior College Athletic Association runner-up at 184 a year ago.
“Wesley (Schultz) is very unorthodox and brings something different, which is nice to see," Branch said. "We are only beginning to get to know him, and he has a great attitude and loves the sport. Nate (Shaw) is a veteran but hasn’t been wrestling at this level for very long. He didn’t get a chance to compete until midyear last season. He put in great work this summer and he very well could be someone to deal with at this weight class.”
There are a number of athletes that could compete for the Pokes at the 174 weight class. Paine is the one returner with the most experience, while redshirt junior Chaz Polson, junior Kyle Pope and redshirt freshman Lucas Lovvorn are also in the mix. Lovvorn, Polson and Pope could all see time at 165 for Wyoming as well.
Lovvorn ended his freshman season with a 17-8 record, as he competed in a number of open tournaments. Wrestling at 165, he placed second at the UNK Holiday and Utah Valley Open. Polson also competed at 165 and went 1-2 at last season’s Big 12 Championships. He had an 18-13 overall record with four pins for UW. Pope was in and out of the lineup for UW a season ago. He did compete for the Brown and Gold in various duals including against Oklahoma, Iowa State and Cal Poly.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that 174 is up for grabs at this point,” Branch added. “We have a lot of depth in the lower weights but it gets thinner as we move up. It could be Polson, Pope, Lovvorn or Paine, as all of them have proven experience. It’s clear that Paine is the biggest of those guys and I understand he is looking at 184 as well, so we will let these guys work things out. It’s a good problem to have when you know we have guys willing to jump weight classes because they want to be in the lineup and compete.”
Wyoming will begin the season with the 39th Annual Cowboy Open on Nov. 5. Also, junior Bryce Meredith will compete at the 51st Annual National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) All-Star Classic at Cleveland State University’s Wolstein Center that same day.
The Pokes have most recently been ranked No. 22 by Intermat Wrestling, in addition to earning No. 21 in the WIN Magazine 2016-17 Preseason Tournament Power Index. The Cowboys are one of three Big 12 teams in the Intermat Wrestling tournament rankings.