March 6, 2011
Colorado Springs, Colo.
Five University of Wyoming wrestlers won their respective weight class and six earned automatic bids to the NCAA Championships to guide the Cowboys to their second-straight NCAA West Regional title on Sunday in Clune Arena. UW's five conference champions are its most since the Cowboys earned six in 1986, as the accomplishment earned head coach Mark Branch his second Western Wrestling Conference Coach-of-the-Year award.
"We put six wrestlers through to the NCAA and that is what this tournament is about," Branch said. "I'm excited for those guys because they wrestled well today and got the job done."
Northern Iowa entered the evening's finals round with a half-point advantage over Wyoming in the team standings, but the Cowboys went 5-2 in their title matches to take home the trophy 93-87 over the Panthers. Host Air Force finished third with 59 points and North Dakota State was fourth with 45.5. UW wrestlers went 18-8 overall on the day with five pins and four major decisions.
"This is the third year I've been here and it's been a crazy finish every year," Branch said. "Our guys in the finals stepped up tonight. We had some head-to-head matches that were critical and they won those."
Juniors Michael Martinez and Shane Onufer earned their third consecutive individual titles, but the most impressive performance of the day came from Lee Helbig at 197 pounds. The sophomore opened with a pin of South Dakota State's Cord Williers in 4:20, before falling North Dakota State's Drew Ross in 3:39 in the semifinals. Helbig's 14-4 major decision over Northern Iowa's Andy O'Laughlin in the final clinched the team title for the Cowboys.
Onufer captured two bonus-point victories himself at 165 pounds, as he pinned South Dakota State's John Nething in 6:36 before posting a 10-2 major decision against Northern Iowa's Trevor Kittleson in the semifinals. He beat Steven Monk of North Dakota State, 9-3, in the final. Martinez also wrestled well at 125. He opened with a 14-5 major decision against Northern Colorado's Sam Bauer, earned a 3-2 decision over top-seeded Trent Sprenkle of North Dakota State in the semifinals and ended his day with an exciting 3-1 sudden victory against UNI's Caleb Flores in the final.
Senior Cole Dallaserra and redshirt freshman Patrick Martinez rounded out UW's individual champions at 149 and 174 pounds, respectively. After a bye in the first round, Dallaserra picked up an 8-2 decision over Air Force's Josh Kreimier and went to the first tiebreaker against the Panther's Brett Robbins before claiming a 3-2 win. Martinez began with a 13-2 major decision versus North Dakota State's Tyler Wells and notched 5-2 and 6-2 decisions over Utah Valley's Brad Darrington and Air Force's Joe Stafford, respectively, to take the title.
Junior Joe LeBlanc was UW's final NCAA qualifier with his second-place finish at 184 pounds. He had a bye in the opening round and pinned Northern Colorado's Eric Brennan in 6:01 in the semifinals, but fell to UNI's Ryan Loder, 4-3, in the final. LeBlanc defended his runner-up finish in the true-second match with a 13-4 major decision over North Dakota State's Kenny Moenkedick.
Senior Bubba McLaughlin ended his UW career on a high note with a second-place finish at heavyweight. He pinned Konner Knudtsen of Northern Colorado in 2:53 in the opening round, before collecting a 3-2 decision over Air Force's Jared Erickson in the semifinals. He battled UNI's Christian Brantley to a 3-1 loss in the final.
The final 48 at-large bids to the 2011 NCAA Championships will be announced Wednesday. The national tournament will be hosted by Rider University at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa., on March 17-19.