Dec. 4, 2009
PRIMM, Nev. -
Last season, Wyoming's Joe LeBlanc used the Las Vegas Collegiate Wrestling Invitational to break onto the national scene and show what lay in store for his All-America season. This year, three Cowboy wrestlers, including LeBlanc, have advanced to the semifinals of the 28th annual event and have positioned the UW team for a dramatic improvement in what some consider the best early tournament in the country.
The trio of Wyoming sophomores, LeBlanc at 184 pounds, Michael Martinez (125) and Shane Onufer (165) all advanced through their brackets and will wrestle on Saturday in the semifinals, assuring themselves of at least sixth place.
Martinez and Onufer scored big upsets in their quarterfinal matches, while LeBlanc was simply dominant. Martinez beat No. 5 ranked James Nicholson of Old Dominion (6-4 in OT), Onufer knocked off No. 6 ranked Andy Rendos from Bucknell (5-3) and LeBlanc scored a technical fall over Brice Arand from Oregon State (17-1).
On the day, LeBlanc was 4-0 and all his victories earned bonus team points. Two of his wins came by way of technical fall, one major decision and one pin. Both Martinez and Onufer were 3-0, with one of Onufer's wins a major decision.
After a full day of wrestling on Friday, the Cowboys are currently in 10th place amongst a prestigious field of 42 teams that includes 12 of the top-25 ranked wrestling programs in the country. Wyoming is ahead of ranked programs No. 18 Wisconsin, No. 19 Old Dominion, No. 20 Illinois, No. 21 Arizona State and No. 24 Virginia Tech.
No. 4 ranked Ohio State currently is atop the team standings with 89 points, followed by No. 9 Cornell (79), No. 12 Oklahoma (76), No. 7 Boise State (68.5), No. 11 Nebraska (67), No. 13 Indiana (65.5), Oregon State (61.5), No. 23 Cal Poly (59.5), Navy (57) and then UW (56.5).
"We are seeing some great competition and have definitely closed the gap on some of the top programs in the country," UW head coach Mark Branch said. "This is a tough tournament, so having three guys advance to the semis is good and even our guys who got knocked out today looked improved. I saw a lot of the things that we have worked on in practice and focused on over the last two weeks, so that was a big positive for this team.
"Joe (LeBlanc) looked unbelievable today and was scoring from everywhere. Shane (Onufer) looked better than he has all season and Michael (Martinez) was just tough. I considered holding Michael out of this tournament because of some physical problems, but he wanted to go and pushed through."
Also earning the Cowboy team some key wins on Friday was sophomore Brock Smith at 174 pounds. Smith was 3-2, with one win by way of fall. He was a tough out, narrowly getting bumped from the tournament by No. 13 Luke Rebertus from Navy (6-4).
In 2008, the `Pokes had two place-winners, LeBlanc was third at 184 and Onufer seventh at 174, and as a team they were 19th of 44.
LeBlanc will face No.7 ranked Kirk Smith from Boise State in his semifinal match, Martinez will get No. 3 Anthony Robles of Arizona State and Onufer will square off with No. 8 Colt Sponseller from Ohio State.
The tournament concludes on Saturday with consolation matches starting at 10 a.m. MT, semifinal bouts at 11 a.m. and the finals at 4 p.m. The two-day event is being held at the Star of the Desert Arena in Buffalo Bill's Resort and Casino.
Wyoming Wrestlers, Tournament Record, Bonus Point Wins