LARAMIE, Wyo. -
The Wyoming Cowboy wrestling program has definitely made a name for itself during 81 years of existence. A program rich in tradition with 23 All-Americans, 157 Conference Champions, 21 conference titles, and 235 Cowboys who have competed in the NCAA Championships .
The 2004-05 Cowboys, under the leadership of head coach Steven Suder, look to continue that tradition this season, even though Wyoming has one of the youngest teams in history. Although young, they do not lack experience with eight returning letter winners. They have a strong junior class who will have to play the role of leaders this year with no seniors on the roster. However, Suder believes he could not find a better junior class to teach the "Cowboy Tough" attitude to this young Cowboy line-up.
Entering his 16th season as UW's head wrestling coach, Suder returns five starters from last season including 2004 NCAA Qualifiers Samuel Wendland (189 lbs) and Dusty Hoffschneider (heavyweight). He also returns a potential NCAA Qualifier in Bryce Leonhardt (125 lbs), who had his season last year shortened due to injury.
"We are very excited about the starters we have coming back, but everyone knows that there are no spots guaranteed," said Suder. "They all got a taste of last year's success, but are still hungry, which has motivated all of them to work hard this off-season." Suder is also excited about the younger Cowboys, who have only had the chance to experience a small dose of varsity mat-time.
The veterans who will be counted upon to lead the Pokes this season include juniors Leonhardt, Wendland, Hoffschneider, as well as the other returning starters, Tyson Shatto and Partrick Shuler.
Leonhardt experienced a lot of success during last years campaign, posting a record of 20-3. Before ending his year due to injury, Leonhardt enjoyed a 14-match win streak. This streak included a win over number-one-ranked and eventual National Champion Jason Powell of Nebraska.
Wendland is a returning NCAA Qualifier and 184 pound West Regional Champion. He produced an overall record of 17-15 winning nine of his last 14 matches.
The third junior is Hoffschneider, Wyoming's other returning NCAA Qualifier and West Regional Champion in the heavyweight division. Hoffschneider came out of no where to turn heads across the nation last year. He tallied a 13-6 record and enters the 2004-05 campaign ranked #19 in the nation in his class. However, Hoffschneider is the starting nose-tackle for the Cowboy football team and will not join the wrestling team until January.
Along with those three juniors, Tyson Shatto (133 lbs) and Patrick Shuler (149 lbs) will look to improve on their 2003 outings. Shatto had an overall record of 14-15 and placed fourth at the West Regional. Shuler worked hard during the off-season to improve on his 5-15 record from a year ago, but did finish strong placing fourth at the West Regional.
Some of the younger Pokes Suder is excited about are sophomores Gary Dack (165 lbs) and Barret Duell (133 lbs). Dack finally has his chance to step up and be the starter for the Cowboys. He displays toughness and recorded a record of 16-10 a year ago. Duell stepped up big last season in replacing Bryce Leonhardt, and finished second at the West Regional. Duell will step up a weight class this year, and will look to make an impact at 133 lbs. Redshirt freshmen Carter Downing (141 lbs) and Danny Clum (157 lbs) are other young Cowboys who will look to be contributors to the lineup. Downing had a very successful redshirt year enjoying a 15-5 tournament record with six of those wins coming by pin.
Suder is also excited about the true freshmen coming in. "They are exciting me right now because they are buying into the program and are just a neat bunch of guys to be around." Therefore, don't be surprised to see some true freshmen looking to make an impact for the Cowboys this season.
The Pokes had a very successful 2003-04 season with a dual record of 10-5. They had four regional champions which led them to a second place finish at the 2004 West Regional. After regionals, the Cowboys took six wrestlers to the NCAA Championships and finished 38th in the nation. The six NCAA Qualifiers tied for the most wrestlers sent to one NCAA Championship during the Suder era.
This young Cowboy squad will face another tough schedule. The Pokes travel to some top-notch tournaments including the Nebraska-Omaha Open, the Las Vegas Invite, the Husker Duals, and the Ohio State Buckeye Duals. They will also travel to Colorado Springs at the end of the regular season and face West Regional rival Air Force.
The Pokes will welcome some high-powered opponents to Laramie during the 2004-05 season. The Cowboys will begin the season with a strong PAC-10 foe in Oregon on November 12. Other home duals include: PAC-10 schools Oregon State and Boise State; and a big dual against West Regional rival Fresno State.
"We definitely have our hands full with this schedule," said Suder. "Our first dual with Oregon will be a wake-up call for our young guys, but it is nice to get some of our tough duals at home."
Suder and his Pokes have what it takes to continue on the Wyoming tradition. Even though they may be young, the same goal still remains, to capture the West Regional Championship in Fresno, Calif. on March 5.
Weight Class Breakdown
125- Junior Bryce Leonhardt has recovered from a season ending injury and looks to return to late season form, which included a 14-match win streak and a win over eventual National Champion Jason Powell of Nebraska. Leonhardt will be pushed by redshirt freshman Dustin Rock and newcomers Cody Grant, a four-time state champ from Torrington, Wyo. and New Jersey high school standout Tye Wagner.
133- Good battle shaping up here in this weight class with junior Tyson Shatto, who placed fourth in regionals in 2003. Shatto will have to step it up to keep his spot from sophomore Barret Duell, who finished second at the West Regionals in the 125 weight division and has bulked up during the off season. Newcomer Garrett Desmond from Pennsylvania will add depth to the lower weights.
141- Exciting newcomer Carter Downing from Woodruff, Utah, looks to make an immediate impact for the Cowboy program coming off his 20 win redshirt campaign. Downing will be backed up by freshman state champ Mike White, from Brighton Colo.
149- Some tough competition brewing for the starting spot at this weight. Junior Patrick Shuler, a fourth place finisher at the West Regional, will lead a three way battle with freshman Clint Stout from Pennsylvania, and newcomer Kyle Dye from Casper, Wyo.
157- Freshman Dan Clum from Arvada Colo., will bring loads of talent to a young Cowboy line-up. Look for Clum to get some big wins for UW in his first year out.
165- Sophomore Gary Dack also from Arvada Colo., saw limited action last season but is ready to step up and add toughness to a young Cowboy line-up. A two-time state champ from New Mexico, Dan Barrone will add depth and brings very successful high school credentials and could see action at 174.
184- West Regional Champion Samuel Wendland from Bozeman Mont. will be counted on to anchor the experienced upper weights. Needs to improve in a couple of areas to go further in the NCAA tournament. Chet Slevin, three time Washington state champ, will look to make the move to Division I wrestling from high school.
197- A starter in 2001, Malcolm Havens from Parker Colo. will be the front runner at this class. He did a great job filling in last year and will be ready for a starting role again this year. Freshmen Preston Pavich from South Dakota and Avery Rodgers of Iowa will also look to make the move to Division I wrestling.
HWT- Junior Dusty Hoffschneider from Denver, Colo., a Regional Champion and an 11th seed at the NCAA tournament last year, will look to join the Cowboys after football season in January. Dusty starts at nose-tackle for the Cowboys and brings intensity and great work ethic to the wrestling room. Look for freshman Jason Still of Colorado, to lead the Cowboys for the first half of the season and may get a starting role later in the season. Junior Drew Severn from Arizona, also on the Cowboy football team, will join the squad in January. Severn will push for the starting job and use three years of experience at this level to get it done.