March 1, 2012
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
Fresh off a 10-win dual season, the University of Wyoming wrestling program will turn its attention to the postseason this weekend at the Western Wrestling Conference Championships/NCAA West Regional.
The Pokes (10-3 overall, 6-0 WWC) hit the mats at the West Regional on Sunday in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Hosted by the University of Northern Iowa, action starts in the McLeod Center at 10 a.m. MT, with finals slated to begin at 3 p.m. MT. Automatic bids to the NCAA Championships will be earned at the event. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Northern Iowa Athletics Ticket Office at 319-273-4849 or at the door.
History at the West Regional
This season's competition will be the 13th year the Cowboys have competed at the West Regional and sixth year it has been combined with the WWC.
Since Wyoming head coach Mark Branch entered the picture, the West Regional races have been hotly contested. The Cowboys have won the last two West Regional titles, and the last three regional races have come down to UW and Northern Iowa, with less than 10 points separating the teams each time.
The Pokes ended UNI's 24-year win streak at the event two years ago, but it was the Panthers who handed UW its only conference dual loss under Branch on Feb. 20, 2011. Branch is 22-1 in WWC action since 2008-09.
He said it
Wyoming coach Mark Branch has pushed his wrestlers in the training room to get ready for the pinnacle of the season so far.
"I feel like we've had some of the best training cycles that we've ever had in the postseason," Branch said. "I think the 10 guys we have are wrestling for the University of Wyoming, not themselves. They're pushing that team concept. I think that's why we finished our regular season so strongly. These 10 guys are wrestling for something bigger than themselves."
The champs are back
UW has had 25 individual championships at the West Regional tournament, including five in 2011. Seniors Shane Onufer (165 pounds) and Michael Martinez (125) will shoot for their fourth straight individual titles at this year's tournament. Other returning champions include junior L.J. Helbig (2011 champ at 197), sophomore Pat Martinez (2011 champ at 174) and senior Joe LeBlanc, who was champion in 2009 and 2010 at 184 pounds.
What's at stake
The NCAA announced Feb. 23 the West Regional earned 17 automatic bids to the NCAA Championships on March 15-17, as the new qualifying system for the national tournament is in its third season. The conference's 17 spots are two more than last season. Wrestlers earn bids for each weight class of each conference tournament based on several factors, including ranking in the coaches' poll, record and RPI. Below is a breakdown of the allocation of bids to each weight class.
125 pounds: 2
Wrestlers who do not claim one of automatic bids will still have a chance to make the NCAA Championships, when the final 40 at-large bids are announced on March 7. Those qualifiers are selected by the NCAA wrestling committee and make each weight class at the national tournament consist of 33 wrestlers.