Dec. 2, 2011
LAS VEGAS -
The Las Vegas Invitational has been kind to Wyoming in recent years, and Friday was no exception.
Three UW wrestlers wrestled their way into the semifinals of the high-caliber event, including seniors Joe LeBlanc and Shane Onufer. The surprise of the tournament was the performance of redshirt freshman Zach Zehner, who beat two ranked wrestlers to advance to the semifinals.
After Friday's action was wrapped up, Wyoming was in fourth place out of 34 teams in the standings with 58 points, ahead of programs like Oregon State, Edinboro, Nebraska and Cal Poly.
Zehner put himself in prime position Friday, reaching the semifinals with three critical wins at 133 pounds. He began by defeating Julian Perez (San Francisco State) and No. 5 Ryan Mango of Stanford, who finished sixth overall at the NCAA Championships and was an All-American in 2011. Zehner nearly claimed a major decision, beating Mango 10-3.
Zehner then wrestled 17th-ranked Ridge Kiley of Nebraska and took home a 3-1 decision. He will wrestle 10th-ranked Aaron Schopp of Edinboro on Saturday.
Onufer, wrestling as the top seed in the event, began with a pin of Adam Fierro of Cal State Bakersfield at the 3:32 mark, and won the next bout over Derek Garcia (Ohio State) by medical forfeit. He then defeated Marshall Peppelman of Cornell in an 8-0 major decision to reach the semifinals. Onufer will take on 17th-ranked Joe Booth of Drexel on Saturday.
LeBlanc, ranked fourth in the nation, was the second seed at 184 pounds, and proved he was worthy of the distinction. LeBlanc pinned his first two opponents, Cody McAninch (Northern Colorado) and Zachariah Jiminez of San Francisco State. He continued his dominance, beating Cody Magrum of Ohio State in a 17-1 technical fall. LeBlanc will face Nebraska's Josh Ihnen, ranked 10th, in the semifinals.
At 125 pounds, senior Michael Martinez picked up two early wins over Colby Christensen (Utah Valley) and David Prado (Arizona State) to advance, but met No. 6 Frank Perelli of Cornell in the next round. Martinez fell to Perelli in a 3-2 decision, and now will wrestle Pat Rollins of Oregon State on Saturday in the wrestleback bracket.
Redshirt freshman Michael Hamel went 1-2 on the day at 141 pounds.
Redshirt freshman Brandon Richardson beat Calvin Miller of Cal State Bakersfield in the first bout, but fell to third-seeded Scott Sakaguchi of Oregon State to drop down to the consolation bracket. He picked up a win over Marcel Clopton of Kent State but dropped a decision to Craig Eifert of Cornell to finish 2-2 for the event.
At 157 pounds, redshirt freshman Dakota Friesth picked up a win over Zach Basich of Navy, but fell to T.J. Hepburn of Nebraska-Kearney in the second round. He rebounded with a win over James Rafferty of Army in the wrestlebacks, and followed that up with victories over Anthony Box (Cal State Bakersfield) and Ryan Konz of Indiana. Friesth will wrestle Air Force's Joshua Kreimier on Saturday.
Sophomore Patrick Martinez, wrestling at 174 pounds, picked up wins over Chris Hrunka (Edinboro) and Ryan Leblanc (Indiana). But he couldn't get past fourth-ranked Nick Heflin of Ohio State, falling in a tough 3-2 decision. Patrick Martinez will now try to come back in the consolation bracket, and will take on Ty Vinson of Oregon State on Saturday.
Redshirt junior Alfonso Hernandez also was flawless in his first two matches of the tournament at 197 pounds, beating Chace Eskam (Arizona State) and Nick Tenpenny of North Carolina, both in major decisions. Hernandez fell to Matt Powless of Indiana, ranked fifth in the country, in a 4-2 decision to drop into the consolation bracket. He'll face Keith Witt of Kent State on Saturday.
Junior L.J. Helbig won his first match at heavyweight, shutting out Joel Yahner of Pittsburgh 8-0. He went on to lose an 11-3 match to Benjamin Apland of Michigan to drop down to the wrestleback bracket. He beat Tyler Cowman (Brown) but lost to Ernest James of Edinboro to finish the tournament 2-2.