Dec. 6, 2008
LAS VEGAS, Nev. -
Three University of Wyoming wrestlers made sure that the Cowboys were well represented on Saturday at the 27th Annual Cliff Keen Las Vegas Collegiate Wrestling Invitational. Redshirt freshmen Joe LeBlanc and Shane Onufer, along with junior Cory VomBaur wore UW's gold singlets during the second day of competition at the nation's top pre-season tournament.
One of the shockers of the tournament, LeBlanc advanced to the 184-pound semifinals and placed third overall with a 6-1 event record. Onufer ended the tournament in seventh place with a 5-2 record at 174 pounds. VomBaur made it to the quarterfinals in the 133-pound weight class and was 2-2 in Las Vegas.
As a team, the Cowboys placed 19th of 44 teams, an 18-spot improvement from their 37th place finish at the same event last season. It was the best finish for Wyoming at the Las Vegas Invitational since they placed 16th in 2003. UW also bested the other three Western Wrestling Conference teams in attendance: Utah Valley (25th), North Dakota State (31st) and Air Force (37th).
"Obviously, we did not have anyone favored to place prior to this tournament, so for us to have two guys place is good," said first-year Wyoming head coach Mark Branch. "I am pleased with some things that I saw from my team over the last two days, but overall I think we have a lot to work on and I know that the guys feel that they didn't perform as well as they could have.
"I talked to the team last night about why Joe (LeBlanc) is in the position he has put himself in. He has been adapting his approach and is adding to both his offense and defense. He has been correcting his mistakes, has been open-minded with his workouts and is applying new skills, not just learning them.
"Shane (Onufer) is disappointed with his performance. This tournament exposed some things he needs to work on, but to his credit, after a tough loss to the Cornell wrestler, Shane came back and dominated to take seventh.
"We are going to go back to our wrestling room and emphasize being physical on our feet. This team needs more of a fighter's mentality and I want to see more fight in the dog in our future workouts and matches."
LeBlanc ended his sterling event performance on Saturday night with an 8-7 victory over Anthony Biondo of Michigan to earn third place honors in a difficult field. His tournament record was 6-1 with three wins by major decision and an opening round triumph on Friday over the No. 7 wrestler in the country, Vince Jones of Nebraska. LeBlanc's only loss came in the semifinals to eventual tournament champion, No. 5 ranked Kirk Smith of Boise State. The Cowboy redshirt freshman now has a season record of 21-3.
Onufer, the tournament's 12-seed, had three matches on Saturday in the back draw. He defeated Wisconsin's Travis Rutt by a score of 7-3, then was narrowly defeated by Steve Bosak of Cornell, 5-4 due to a stalling point. That put the second-year Cowboy into a 7/8 matchup with Shane Riccio of Bucknell. Onufer would cruise in the match and pin Riccio at the 6:45 mark to secure seventh place. He now has a season record of 21-4 with 10 pins.
After losing in the quarterfinals late on Friday, VomBaur began Saturday with a consolation bracket match-up against Matt Vacanti of Nebraska. VomBaur went the distance with Vacanti tied at 2-2 and additional time was needed to decide a winner. The match went to double-overtime and Vacanti prevailed 4-2, ending VomBaur's tournament.
The Cowboy wrestlers will take next week off from competition in order to focus on their fall finals at UW. Wyoming's next tournament will be the Reno Tournament of Champions in Reno, Nev., on Thursday, Dec. 18th.