Wyoming Wins West Regional, Breaks UNI 24-Year Streak

March 6, 2010

BROOKINGS, S.D. -

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In unusual and exciting fashion, the University of Wyoming Wrestling team qualified three individuals for the upcoming national championships and won the NCAA West Regional title on Saturday in Brookings.

A trio of UW sophomores won their brackets and earned automatic bids to the 2010 NCAA DI Wrestling Championships. Michael Martinez was the victor at 125 pounds, Shane Onufer at 165 and Joe LeBlanc at 184. The Cowboys also got a second-place finish from Cory VomBaur (133) and three third-place winners: Jimmy Belleville (157), Alfonso Hernandez (197) and L.J. Helbig (Hwt.).

As a team, the `Pokes came from behind and won the West Regional team title by a half point over the 24-time defending champion Northern Iowa Panthers. It is Wyoming's first-ever West Regional team title and UW's first tournament conference championship team since 1992.

The Cowboys concluded the event with 75 points, Northern Iowa had 74.5, North Dakota State (44.5) was third, followed by Utah Valley (43.5), Air Force (37.5), South Dakota State (29.5) and Northern Colorado (18.5). All seven Western Wrestling Conference teams competed at the event, making it in effect the league's championship tournament.

Entering the final matches in the heavyweight division, the `Pokes trailed the Panthers by a half point. UNI's Christian Brantley won his match, but so did UW's Helbig, only Helbig pinned his opponent which gave Wyoming the necessary bonus points to jump in front of Northern Iowa to end the night.

The Cowboys and Panthers did battle all day long, with four head-to-head match-ups in the semifinals, two others for first place and one for third place. UW was 5-2 in those matches. Those bouts, along with some key consolation bracket wins and bonus points, helped Wyoming come from down 15 points after the semifinals and seven and a half points to UNI heading into the finals.

UW was hurt by some key losses to some of their high seeds in early matches, but also benefited from a penalty point deducted from UNI for poor sportsmanship after the 157-pound final.

"This is a bitter-sweet day," Wyoming head coach Mark Branch said. "I feel that we wrestled about as poor as we could today and that is the reality. The good thing is that we walk away with the team championship, which was one of our goals this year. It is hard though, because I don't believe we deserved it with our performance. I would trade the team title for a few more guys going to the NCAA Championships.

"The way that we train and my philosophy as a coach is to perform well on this weekend. Everything points towards that. To come out and wrestle poorly is disappointing. We trained too hard and too smart to let our opponents dictate the outcome the way they did today.

"There were some performances on our team that deserve thanks for getting this team over the hump and earning the West Regional trophy. Guys like Fonz (Hernandez), Jimmy and L.J. all showed some heart with the way they came back through the back-draw, earned bonus points and got some big wins."

Martinez, the No. 2 seed at 125 pounds, faced Andrew Zwirlein from Air Force for the second straight year in the opening round. In a low-scoring match, Martinez won 3-2. Next, the Cowboy sophomore had Caleb Flores of UNI and the two had to go to a second sudden victory period before Martinez won the match in extra time with a takedown, 4-2. In the finals, he would face No. 1 seeded Ben Kjar from Utah Valley for the third time this season. The pair had split their two previous meetings. Like their match at the Cowboy Open in November, No. 9-ranked Kjar and No. 11-ranked Martinez needed extra time to determine a champion, and just like that earlier match Martinez used a takedown in the first sudden victory period to win 7-3. With the win Martinez won his second straight 125-pound West Regional title and took one of the league's two automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament. His overall record is now 30-7.

Seeded No. 1 in the 133-pound weight class, VomBaur had a first-round bye and then faced No. 4 seed Ryan Jauch from Northern Iowa in the semifinals. He recorded an early first-period takedown, racked up riding time over Jauch and then held on for a 5-3 decision. In the finals, against No. 3 seed Flint Ray (UVU), VomBaur lost 8-3 and must now hope for an at-large NCAA bid. VomBaur wrestled the event on a sore knee, after a staph infection had caused his knee to swell over the past two weeks. He will now wait for the NCAA at-large selections next Wednesday to see if he will attend his fourth national championships.

At 141 pounds, Chase Smith was pinned in his opening match and lost a decision in the wrestlebacks, the only Cowboy to go 0-2 on the day.

Starting as the No. 3 seed at 149 pounds, Cole Dallaserra controlled his first-round match with Nick Hagar (SDSU) and won 6-0. He then had trouble creating any offense against No. 2 seed Andrey Patselov (NDSU) and lost 6-2. That dropped Dallaserra into the consolation bracket where he would face Gabe Martinez of Air Force. He would need extra time to beat Martinez, but did manage get revenge for a recent dual loss by winning in a second sudden victory period, 3-1. Dallaserra then wrestled No. 4 seed Justin Morrill (UVU) in the third place bout, losing 9-4 and taking fourth place.

UW freshman Belleville was seeded No. 4 at 157 pounds and opened his tournament by avenging a recent dual loss to Alec Williams of Air Force. Belleville never trailed and beat Williams 9-3. No. 1 seed Tyson Reiner (UNI) was his next opponent and he would lose a major decision 14-4. In the back draw, Belleville first saw Nick Flynn from SDSU, winning 8-2 before meeting No. 2 seed Justin Gaethje (UNCo) for third place. In an exciting match that was back-and-forth for a full seven minutes, Belleville won 11-10 thanks to a late takedown. He finished his freshman campaign with a 31-8 record.

No. 9-ranked Onufer was the No. 1 seed at 165 pounds and got an 11-2 major decision against Kevin O'Brien from Northern Colorado in his first match, followed by another major decision, 13-5, against No. 4 seed Tyler Johnson (NDSU). His finals' opponent was the No. 3 seed David Bonin (UNI). Onufer pushed the pace, scored two takedowns and won the Regional title match by a score of 6-2. He was awarded the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for his efforts, his second-straight trip to nationals. Onufer now has a 27-5 season record.

Also a No. 1 seed, Brock Smith drew a first-round bye and then faced No. 4 seed Tyler French (AFA) for the third time this season. Each wrestler had one head-to-head win over the other, but French tilted the season scorecard in his favor by beating Smith this time 5-2. Mac Stoll from NDSU was next for Smith, whom he beat 10-5, setting up a third place match with Utah Valley's No. 2 seed Brad Darrington. Smith had beaten Darrington earlier this season, but this time was forced to wrestle with a foot injury he sustained in an earlier match. He lost the match 6-1.

LeBlanc, nationally ranked No. 8 at 184 pounds, lived up to his No. 1 seed by earning a technical fall in his opener against Patrick Prentice (UNCo). Wyoming's All-American took a 14-1 first-period lead and then ended the match quickly at 3:13 by a 17-1 margin. It was LeBlanc's 12th technical fall victory this season. Equally as dominant was LeBlanc's next match, in which he pinned James Ciccone from Air Force at 1:49. The fall was his 12th win in that fashion this season. It would then be No. 3 seed Andy O'Loughlin (UNI) whom LeBlanc would fight in the finals and despite his opponents' defensive approach, he would win 9-2. LeBlanc rolled up over four minutes in riding time in the match. It was also his second consecutive West Regional crown and he will return to the NCAA Tournament via an automatic bid. LeBlanc's season record is now 35-4. He was named the event's Outstanding Wrestler as voted by the coaches.

In a big blow against the Cowboy team, 197-pounder Alfonso Hernandez, who was seeded No. 2, was pinned by Drew Ross of North Dakota State in the opening round. He battled back in the consolation bracket with a pin of his own, his first this season, over Edward Matthews (UNCo) at 2:36, then followed that up with his second win by fall of the year, this time at 2:58 over No. 4 seed Josh Wood (UVU). Having seen his chances of qualifying for nationals go south in the first round, a frustrated Hernandez then beat No. 3 seed Dustin Bauman (UNI) by decision, 9-3. He placed third with the win and won the tournament's Most Pins award.

L.J. Helbig was the No. 4 seed at heavyweight and drew a first-round bye before matching up with No. 1 seed Christian Brantley of UNI. Brantley proved to be too much for Helbig, winning 6-2, however, in his next match UW's redshirt freshman beat Joe Arthur from NDSU, 7-3. He now faced Kevin Kelly (SDSU) for third place and with the `Pokes team title hopes on the line. Helbig came through in the clutch for his team by pinning Kelly with just a second remaining in period number two and sealing the West Regional team title for Wyoming.

LeBlanc, Martinez and Onufer will now begin training for the NCAA Championships which will be held in Omaha, Neb., March 18-20 at the Qwest Center Omaha.

VomBaur will have to wait until after all of the qualifying events have concluded and the NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee meets in-person to select the remaining 46 at-large qualifiers, which will be announced on March 10.