March 17, 2010
OMAHA, Neb. -
A drive east on I-80 has brought four University of Wyoming Cowboy wrestlers from 7,200 feet in Laramie to the banks of the Missouri River, where on Thursday morning they will compete for the prestige of All-American honors and National Champion titles.
Wyoming will be represented at the 2010 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in Omaha, Neb. by sophomore Michael Martinez at 125 pounds, senior Cory VomBaur (133), sophomore Shane Onufer (165) and sophomore Joe LeBlanc (184).
LeBlanc, Martinez and Onufer are each seeded (top 12 at each weight) in the tournament, and all three won their weight class at the West Regional Tournament to earn automatic NCAA spots. VomBaur earned his slot at the event via an at-large selection by the NCAA Committee.
The three-day event will take place Thursday through Saturday, March 18-20 at the Qwest Center Omaha. 330 wrestlers will compete in ten different weight classes.
First round matches will begin on Thursday morning at 10 a.m. MT. Friday's bouts start at 8:30 a.m. and Saturday's fights will begin at 9 a.m. There will be two sessions of wrestling each day.
"We have been stressing that nothing can be left on the mat over the next three days," Wyoming head coach Mark Branch said. "Go out there and go for it. That is the key.
"There are no easy matches at this tournament. Every match will be tough here. We have to be ready to go on Thursday morning and not get ahead of ourselves.
"That said, I don't think any of our guys are heading into this with the intent of coming home with less than an All-American award. I think you can say that is a goal."
All four UW grapplers hope to improve on their performances at this event from last season when they combined for a 9-8 record.
Martinez will enter this week's tournament as the No. 11 seed at 125 pounds. He will face sophomore Aaron Kalil from Navy in the first round on Thursday morning. Martinez and Kalil squared off earlier this season at the Reno Tournament of Champions, with Martinez taking a 7-6 decision. This season, Martinez has the most wins of any UW wrestler against the NCAA field, with a mark of 9-6. He has beaten Kalil, Alan Bartelli of Boise State, Andre Gonzalez (Cal St. Fullerton), twice over Ben Kjar (Utah Valley), Ryan Mango (Stanford), James Nicholson (Old Dominion), Brad Pataky (Penn State) and Shane Young (West Virginia). Last season, Martinez had a record of 1-2 at the NCAA Tournament. His overall record this season is 30-7.
One of only three wrestlers in the history of the UW program to compete in four national championships, VomBaur will enter the event unseeded in the 133-pound weight class. Chris Bell (1980-83) and Dave Myers (1989-92) are the other two `Pokes with four-year NCAA qualifier distinction. In VomBaur's first match, he will face the winner of a pigtail bout between Matthew Fisk from Lehigh and the No. 11 seed, Scotti Sentes of Central Michigan. This season against his NCAA bracket, VomBaur is 3-2. He has beaten Ben Ashmore from Arizona State, Sean Clair (Eastern Michigan) and Flint Ray (Utah Valley). At the 2009 Championships, VomBaur went 1-2. He is 18-8 this season at 133 and 141 pounds.
Onufer will be the No. 8 seed at 165 pounds in his second-straight trip to nationals. Tyler Grayson from Central Michigan will be his first round opponent. This season, Onufer is 5-4 versus his potential NCAA opponents. He has defeated John-Martin Cannon of Buffalo, P.J. Gillespie (Hofstra) Matt Kaylor (Binghamton) and Andy Rendos (Bucknell) twice. In 2009, Onufer was 2-2 at the national championships at 174 pounds. He currently has a 27-5 season record.
Wyoming's highest seeded wrestler heading into the season-ending tournament will be LeBlanc, who at 184 pounds is the No. 7 seed. His first match will be against Josh Ihnen of Nebraska, whom he narrowly beat earlier this season in Lincoln, 5-4. Against his NCAA weight class, LeBlanc is 7-4 this year. He has beaten Ihnen, Steve Bosak (Cornell), David Erwin (Penn State), Zack Giesen (Stanford), Mike Larson (Cal St. Bakersfield), Nick Palmieri (Michigan State) and Mike Pucillo (Ohio State). LeBlanc's season record is currently 35-4.
Last year as a redshirt freshman, LeBlanc placed fifth at 184 pounds, becoming the first All-American in 13 years for UW's wrestling program and the 24th in school history. He was 5-2 overall and his only two losses came at the hands of top-3 finishers.
At the 2009, with the same four qualifiers, Wyoming tied for 32nd place at the national tournament. UW ended the 2009-10 regular season ranked No. 25 by the National Wrestling Coaches Association. The Cowboys' best finish ever at the NCAA Championships was in 1960 when they placed third. More recently, in 1996 when the `Pokes had three All-Americans (Brandon Alderman, Reese Andy and Brent Voorhees), they finished in a tie for 15th.
For fans that cannot attend the event, on Thursday, Sessions One and Two of the 2010 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships can be followed live online via CBS Sports All-Access. Sessions Three, Four and Five will be shown on ESPNU, while the finals, Session Six, can be found on ESPN.