March 14, 2011
On the Slate
After a historic performance at the NCAA West Regional, the Wyoming wrestling team is primed for a strong performance at the 2011 NCAA Championships on Thursday-Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa. UW claimed five individual titles en route to winning the team championship at the regional and will send six Cowboys to the national tournament, their most since 2006. Joe LeBlanc (5) and Shane Onufer (7) are seeded for their respective weights (184 and 165) at nationals, as LeBlanc attempts to become a three-time All-American. Michael Martinez (125), Cole Dallaserra (149), Patrick Martinez (174) and Lee Helbig (197) round out Wyoming's representatives.
The ESPN family of networks will have extensive live coverage of Thursday and Friday's action, with both days broadcast between ESPNU and online at ESPN360.com. Saturday's finals will be on ESPN at 5:30 p.m. MT. Live results of Wyoming wrestlers, including recaps and updated brackets, will be available through WyomingAthletics.com. Fans can click on the link above to watch a video interview with head coach Mark Branch and junior Joe LeBlanc previewing the national tournament.
History at the NCAA Championships
The Cowboys have finished in the top 25 of the team race at the NCAA Championships 15 times, as their last came with a 15th-place showing in 1996. Wyoming's highest team finish was third in 1960. UW finished 33rd last year with 17.5 points and one All-American.
Individually, the Cowboys have claimed 25 All-America honors in their history, including two by junior Joe LeBlanc at 184 pounds. LeBlanc is shooting to become just the third UW wrestler to claim three All-America accolades. Dick Ballinger accomplished the feat from 1958-60, including earning UW's only national championship in 1960 at 167 pounds. UW's Reese Andy also was a three-time All-American from 1994-96 at 177 pounds.
Last year at the NCAA Championships: LeBlanc Earns Second All-America Honor
Joe LeBlanc went 4-2 at 184 pounds at the 2010 NCAA Championships in Omaha, Neb., to earn his second All-America honor and become Wyoming's fifth two-time All-American. He paced a group of four Cowboys that qualified for the event.
LeBlanc went 2-0 on Thursday before earning a sudden victory win over second-seeded John Dergo on Friday morning. In the day's evening session he lost a sudden-victory match to eventual champion Max Askren of Missouri. LeBlanc bounced back with an 8-3 win over No. 5 Clayton Foster of Oklahoma State, but fell to No. 4 Michael Cannon of American in the consolation final.
Scouting the NCAA Championships
Cornell enters the NCAA Championships as the odds-on favorite to take the team title. The Big Red is picked to take home the title by InterMat and D1CollegeWrestling.net and tabbed runner up by WIN Magazine. Penn State and Oklahoma State will battle for the other two top spots according to the three polls, while Iowa and Wisconsin round out the pre-tournament favorites for the top five. After spending the dual season ranked in the top 20, Wyoming is picked to finish 19th by InterMat and D1CollegeWrestling.net and 22nd by WIN at the national tournament.
Last Time Out: Cowboy Wrestling Claims Second-Straight West Regional Title
Five University of Wyoming wrestlers won their respective weight class and six earned automatic bids to the NCAA Championships to guide the Cowboys to their second-straight NCAA West Regional title on March 6 in Clune Arena. UW's five conference champions are its most since the Cowboys earned six in 1986, as the accomplishment earned head coach Mark Branch his second Western Wrestling Conference Coach-of-the-Year award.
"We put six wrestlers through to the NCAA and that is what this tournament is about," Branch said. "I'm excited for those guys because they wrestled well today and got the job done."
Northern Iowa entered the evening's finals round with a half-point advantage over Wyoming in the team standings, but the Cowboys went 5-2 in their title matches to take home the trophy 93-87 over the Panthers. Host Air Force finished third with 59 points and North Dakota State was fourth with 45.5. UW wrestlers went 18-8 overall on the day with five pins and four major decisions.
"This is the third year I've been here and it's been a crazy finish every year," Branch said. "Our guys in the finals stepped up tonight. We had some head-to-head matches that were critical and they won those."
Juniors Michael Martinez and Shane Onufer earned their third consecutive individual titles, but the most impressive performance of the day came from Lee Helbig at 197 pounds. The sophomore opened with a pin of South Dakota State's Cord Williers in 4:20, before falling North Dakota State's Drew Ross in 3:39 in the semifinals. Helbig's 14-4 major decision over Northern Iowa's Andy O'Laughlin in the final clinched the team title for the Cowboys.
Onufer captured two bonus-point victories himself at 165 pounds, as he pinned South Dakota State's John Nething in 6:36 before posting a 10-2 major decision against Northern Iowa's Trevor Kittleson in the semifinals. He beat Steven Monk of North Dakota State, 9-3, in the final. Martinez also wrestled well at 125. He opened with a 14-5 major decision against Northern Colorado's Sam Bauer, earned a 3-2 decision over top-seeded Trent Sprenkle of North Dakota State in the semifinals and ended his day with an exciting 3-1 sudden victory against UNI's Caleb Flores in the final.
Senior Cole Dallaserra and redshirt freshman Patrick Martinez rounded out UW's individual champions at 149 and 174 pounds, respectively. After a bye in the first round, Dallaserra picked up an 8-2 decision over Air Force's Josh Kreimier and went to the first tiebreaker against the Panther's Brett Robbins before claiming a 3-2 win. Martinez began with a 13-2 major decision versus North Dakota State's Tyler Wells and notched 5-2 and 6-2 decisions over Utah Valley's Brad Darrington and Air Force's Joe Stafford, respectively, to take the title.
Junior Joe LeBlanc was UW's final NCAA qualifier with his second-place finish at 184 pounds. He had a bye in the opening round and pinned Northern Colorado's Eric Brennan in 6:01 in the semifinals, but fell to UNI's Ryan Loder, 4-3, in the final. LeBlanc defended his runner-up finish in the true-second match with a 13-4 major decision over North Dakota State's Kenny Moenkedick.
Senior Bubba McLaughlin ended his UW career on a high note with a second-place finish at heavyweight. He pinned Konner Knudtsen of Northern Colorado in 2:53 in the opening round, before collecting a 3-2 decision over Air Force's Jared Erickson in the semifinals. He battled UNI's Christian Brantley to a 3-1 loss in the final.
One More for the Century Club
After watching teammate Joe LeBlanc crack the 100-career win mark earlier this season, Shane Onufer accomplished the feat at the West Regional. His 10-2 major decision over Northern Iowa's Trevor Kittleson in the semifinals made him the 10th UW wrestler to accomplish the feat, as he now stands at 101-20 in his career.
LeBlanc passed the mark on Feb. 3 against Air Force and currently holds a 108-16 mark. He is three wins short of tying Jimmy London (1976-81) for sixth on UW's all-time list.
Both are quickly approaching UW's all-time falls list as well. Onufer has 30 and LeBlanc has 26 to trail eighth-place Wes Gasner (1982-84) with 33.
The Other Martinez
Wyoming fans are plenty familiar with three-time NCAA qualifier Michael Martinez, but fellow Cowboy Patrick Martinez has been making a name for himself as well. A native of Hemet, Calif., Patrick went 17-3 as a 165-pound redshirt during 2009-10, before solidifying himself as UW's starter at 174 this season. He started 2010-11 at 165 and placed second at two tournaments, but made the jump up a weight class in December. He placed third at the UNK Loper Open and went 2-2 at the Reno Tournament of Champions, but won seven of 11 matches during the dual season with four major decisions. Patrick posted a 10-2 mark against the Western Wrestling Conference this season and currently leads the Cowboys with nine major decisions.
Wrestling With Deafness
UW's Lee (LJ) Helbig has overcome more than just the typical challenges on the wrestling mat. Helbig was born deaf and has a cochlear implant in his left ear to assist him with hearing, but can't wear the device when he competes. Wrestling in silence, he has blossomed in Wyoming's program, as his victories the last two seasons at the West Regional have clinched the team title for UW. In 2009-10, he split time at 197 and heavyweight, before finishing third in the regional at heavyweight. His pin in the consolation final gave UW the needed bonus points for a half-point win over Northern Iowa. Helbig started at 197 this year and posted a 22-14 overall mark. His 14-4 major decision in the West Regional final clinch UW's team title this year also. For a video interview with LJ log on to Flowrestling.com and search for "Helbig."
Versus the Western
En route to earning a 5-1 dual mark in the Western Wrestling Conference and the West Regional team title, UW's 10 starters at the regional tournament compiled an 87-32 record versus WWC foes. The mark includes a perfect 12-0 record from junior Shane Onufer.
Checking the Tournament Rankings
With the conclusion of the dual season, most of the team polls have switched and now rank programs based on their projected finish at the NCAA Championships later this month. In the three major polls, InterMat and D1CollegeWrestling.net rank Wyoming No. 19, while WIN magazine has the Cowboys tied for 22nd.