Jan. 6, 2009
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
"To be the best you have to beat the best" is a cliché often used in the world of sports, and the Wyoming Cowboy wrestlers will have a chance to prove that statement true this Saturday, Jan. 10. The `Pokes will travel to Cedar Falls, Iowa, to face the nationally ranked No. 1 Iowa Hawkeyes in the opening round of the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA)/Cliff Keen National Duals. The match will begin at 8 a.m. (MT).
By luck of the draw the Cowboys drew the defending national champions and top-seeded Hawkeyes in the first round. Wyoming has a 3-0 record in dual matches so far this season, while Iowa is 10-0.
Of eight seeded schools, Iowa has the top spot at the 2009 National Duals and rightfully so, as they are undefeated this season and are the event's defending DI team champion. Minnesota had won the title the previous two years, 2006 and 2007.
"This is a great opportunity for us to wrestle a program (Iowa) with so much tradition and success," stated Wyoming head coach Mark Branch. "They are the defending national champions and are at the top of their game right now. I have a lot of respect for their program and our guys will get a chance to see what they are all about. The deck will be stacked against us at a lot of weights, but winning starts when you believe that anything is possible.
"I am not looking at this bracket and thinking about how many duals we can try to win. The focus for our team will be about whether we can make some huge strides individually. This kind of high-quality event is just the type of environment where that can happen and we hope to have some guys continue to progress and improve."
Wyoming has dual wins this season over Cal State Fullerton, Columbia and Stanford. The strength in UW's line-up has come in the upper weights where redshirt freshmen Joe LeBlanc and Shane Onufer have attracted national attention. LeBlanc is 26-4 and ranked No.9 in the country at 184 pounds, while Onufer leads the team in wins with a mark of 28-5 at 174 pounds. Onufer is ranked No. 17 in the latest Intermat/NWCA poll. Both Cowboys have placed in large tournaments this season, LeBlanc earning the runner-up spot at the Las Vegas Invite and third at the Reno Tournament of Champions, while Onufer was seventh in Las Vegas and third in Reno.
Nine of 10 probable Iowa wrestlers are ranked in the top-20 nationally, including two that are No. 1 and two that are No. 2. Senior Alex Tsirtsis (141 pounds) and junior Brent Metcalf (149) are tops in their weight class, with senior Charlie Falck (125) and Jay Borschel (174) in the two-slot. Metcalf was the 2008 NCAA champion at 149 pounds.
Iowa won the only previous meeting with Wyoming, 21-6 in 1958.
The National Duals, a 16-team, double-elimination event is widely regarded as the head-to-head dual national championship in collegiate wrestling. The tournament will run Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 10-11. Over the course of those two days, the NWCA also hosts dual championships for Division II, III, NAIA and NJCAA schools at the UNI Dome in Cedar Falls.
Division I schools participating in this year's dual championship are No. 1 ranked Iowa, No. 2 Iowa State, No. 3 Cornell, No. 4 Nebraska, No. 5 Missouri, No. 6 Ohio State, No. 9 Wisconsin, No. 11 Minnesota, No. 14 Penn State, No. 16 Boise State, No. 17 Michigan, No. 19 Indiana, No. 20 Northwestern, No. 21 Northern Iowa, Buffalo and Wyoming.
This is the first time since the event began in 1989 that the Cowboys have been included in the select field of 16.
Following the match with Iowa, Wyoming will wrestle again on Saturday at noon (MT). Their second round opponent will be either Buffalo or the eight-seed Minnesota.
Results will be available at unipanthers.com throughout the tournament. Takedown Wrestling Radio will also broadcast portions of the tournament at Takedownradio.com.