May 12, 2016
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
A conference championship, multiple All-America honors, a first-round NBA Draft pick, a Top 25 team finish and a near national championship are all accomplishments the University of Wyoming Athletics Department has experienced recently. What has led to these many improved performances? If you ask UW student-athletes and coaches alike, enhanced nutritional plans and improved practice and competition facilities are among the key factors in helping the Cowboys and Cowgirls achieve at the highest levels of conference and national competitions. And those enhancements to nutrition and facilities have been made possible by the generosity of donors and matching funds provided by the Wyoming Legislature and Governor Matt Mead.
The string of successes began in the spring of 2015, when the Cowboy Basketball team captured the 2015 Mountain West Conference Championship in Las Vegas, earning Wyoming an automatic bid to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. Later that spring, Larry Nance Jr. was selected in the First Round of the 2015 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Lakers.
That momentum carried over to the fall of 2015, when the Cowgirl Volleyball team opened the season with an impressive upset of the No. 14 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. In late September, the Cowgirls broke into the Top 25 rankings and went on to post an overall record of 23-7 (.767) and a 13-5 conference record. The Cowgirls’ 76.7 winning percentage ranked second best in program history and the 13 conference wins were the most in school history.
In football, Wyoming sophomore running back Brian Hill was named one of only 11 national semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award, which is presented each season to the nation’s premier running back. Hill was the only running back from a non-Power Five Conference to be selected as a semifinalist. He also broke the Wyoming single-season rushing record, with 1,631 yards. Also in 2015, true freshman free safety Andrew Wingard became only the second Wyoming Cowboy in history to earn First Team Freshman All-America honors from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He was one of only 29 freshmen in the nation to earn the honor this past season.
During the 2015-16 winter seasons, one of the most memorable stories in recent UW Athletics history took place when sophomore wrestler Bryce Meredith fought his way to the National Championship match at 141 pounds before falling just one point shy of the national title. He was the first Cowboy to reach an NCAA National Championship match since Reese Andy in 1996 at 177 pounds. Meredith earned All-America honors, and he helped lead the Cowboys to an 18th place team finish at the 2016 NCAA Championships. Part of what Meredith credits for his improved performance this season is both the improved nutrition that has been made available for athletes and the Wrestling team’s practice facility.
“It’s huge,” said the sophomore from Cheyenne, Wyo. “I can look back at my freshman year where I was lacking my nutrition and it would show in the practice room. It would show in the matches. My energy wasn’t there. It’s bad if you’re not eating and doing the right things. This year, I went up a weight class, and I told myself ‘I’m going to eat healthy. I’m going to eat clean.’ The nutrition tables are amazing. Everything I can get from those fuels me through the practices, and I’m not worried about eating. I just worry about getting better. I think it is crazy how much my nutrition helped me this year.
“After workouts, I always go over there, get my protein shake, I get some type of carb and maybe a handful of trail mix -- something like that just to fuel me while my muscles are open in the 30-minute window after working out. From there, I just try to eat clean. I have good meals. You have to be fueling your body.
“And our team room is like nothing I’ve ever really seen. It’s with the top programs in the country.”
When asked if he and other student-athletes he knows have a good understanding of where the money came from to fund the nutrition program Meredith said, “I think so. We probably aren’t as grateful as we should be because we don’t realize exactly how much money is put into it. But when you think about how many athletes we have that is a major expense. The only results people see is what we do in terms of our performance. I try not to take it for granted at all. It helps so much.”
The 2015-16 winter seasons also saw senior diver Kari Campbell become the first female diver in Wyoming history to earn All-America honors, as she placed 14th in the nation in the platform event at the NCAA Championships to earn Honorable Mention All-America recognition. Junior Jordan Charles became the first male hurdler in school history to earn All-America honors. Charles was named an Honorable Mention All-American in the 60-meter hurdles at the 2016 NCAA Indoor Championships. And senior Josh Adams became the first Cowboy basketball player since Josh Davis in 2002 to earn All-America recognition when he was named Honorable Mention All-American by the Associated Press in 2016.
Campbell, who completed her diving career at UW on March 19 at the NCAA Championships, was surprised by her own success at the national championships. She also credits a big part of that success as a senior to the improved nutrition now available to her and all UW student-athletes.
“It (earning All-America honors) was not expected at all, so I just got to enjoy the experience,” said Campbell. “For us sharing Corbett Pool with the swimmers, we have to plan our practice schedule around the swim team since they are a larger team. Because of that, we get odd times to practice throughout the day, so right after practice most of us have to sprint right to class. In the past, there were times I didn’t eat between practice and class, then I was hungry all day and tired for my next practice -- tired for weights (strength training) and you don’t perform as well at that point. Since the ‘Fueling Station’ has been introduced, it’s helped a lot. You get out of practice, you go get food and then you go to class. You’re more energized throughout the day for both class and practice.”
Asked how aware she thinks student-athletes are about how the enhanced nutrition program came about, Campbell said, “I am personally very aware. I’ve been able to sit in on a couple of meetings with Tom Burman (UW Athletics Director) and hear about all the factors that went into that (funding for the nutrition program), and it makes me so much more appreciative of where it comes from. I’ve been able to pass that on to my teammates too, so they will be able to use it right and be thankful for it.”
During the 2016 spring seasons, another great story was written by the Cowboy golf team as they enjoyed one of the best seasons in school history The Cowboys finished among the Top 3 teams in six of the 10 regular-season tournaments they played during the 2015-16 season, and finished in the Top 6 teams in all 10 regular-season tournaments. Sophomore Drew McCullough tied for sixth place at the 2016 Mountain West Conference Championship, narrowly missing out on a bid to the NCAA Championships, and head coach Joe Jensen was named the Mountain West Men’s Golf Coach of the Year by his peers.
Jensen’s team has seen the benefits of the improved nutrition program. His team has also benefitted from an improved practice facility, that was paid for entirely from private donations, that is located at Jacoby Golf Course on campus.
“I am so thankful for the resources we’ve been provided,” said Jensen. “I highlight that when I’m recruiting. We were on the bubble to make it to NCAAs this year, and that is an indication that we are benefitting from our golf training facility and the nutrition program that has been put in place. Nutrition is as important to golfers as any athletes. It is a part of what it takes to play at the highest level of college golf. The support we’ve received from our donors and the state of Wyoming has been phenomenal.”
Prior to August of 2014, the NCAA had placed restrictions on how much food and beverages that NCAA Division I institutions could provide to their student-athletes. Those restrictions were lifted in August 2014, and schools across the nation were allowed to enhance their nutritional programs. Today, nutrition programs, like new and upgraded athletic facilities, are an important factor in being able to recruit and retain quality student-athletes.