March 19, 2013
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
For seven University of Wyoming wrestlers, the months of training and hard work come down to this. They will hit the mats for the NCAA Championships in the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa, starting Thursday.
Wrestling begins Thursday and runs through the finals on Saturday evening. Here are the times and broadcast information.
Thursday: Session I, 10 a.m. MT on ESPN3.com; session II, 5:30 p.m. MT on ESPN3.com
Friday: Session III, 9 a.m. MT, ESPNU/ESPN3.com; session IV, 5 p.m. MT, ESPNU
Saturday: Session V, 9 a.m. MT, ESPNU; session VI, 6 p.m. MT, ESPN
UW's seven qualifiers represent the program's highest total since 1989. Since Wyoming head coach Mark Branch took over the program in 2008-09, he has sent 27 wrestlers to NCAAs. The Cowboys were picked to finish 24th in the team standings by WIN and 29th by InterMat.
Branch at the NCAAs
The head man of Wyoming has coached at least one Cowboy wrestler to All-America status in each of his previous four seasons at the national championships. The Pokes return one All-American in senior Alfonso Hernandez.
Here's a breakdown of each UW wrestler who received a bid for the championships.
Tyler Cox: The sophomore had a breakout season at 125 pounds, qualifying for NCAAs by finishing third in a tough field at the West Regional. Making his first trip to nationals, he is 31-8 this season with 16 bonus-point wins. He will be the 12th seed in the bracket and takes on Nick Soto of Chattanooga in the first round.
McCade Ford: The winner of four-straight matches, Ford has momentum going into the championships at 141 pounds. The senior makes his first foray into NCAAs and brings a 14-12 mark with him. He will face ninth-seeded Richard Durso of Franklin and Marshall in his first match.
Brandon Richardson: After a rough start to the season, Richardson found his stride late. The sophomore earned the third-place trophy and automatic NCAA bid at the West Regional at 149 after going 2-1. Richardson takes a 13-19 mark into his first NCAAs, and his first-round opponent is eighth-seeded Nick Brascetta of Virginia Tech.
Andy McCulley: He finished third at 157 in the West Regional, and was given an at-large bid by the selection committee. At 28-8 with a team-leading 11 pins, McCulley has the ability to beat ranked wrestlers. The sophomore will battle Scott Winston of Rutgers in his first-ever match at nationals.
L.J. Helbig: One of the team's senior leaders, Helbig qualified for NCAAs at 174 and won the West Regional. In 2011, he qualified at 197 pounds. Helbig is 22-10 this season and faces Virginia Tech's Austin Gable in the wrestle-in match of his bracket.
Shane Woods: This season marks five-straight seasons UW has had a 184-pounder at nationals. Woods, a sophomore, follows in the footsteps of Joe LeBlanc (2008-12). Woods went 24-13 and won the West Regional. In his first trip to the championships, he takes on seventh-seeded Jimmy Sheptock of Maryland in his first match.
Alfonso Hernandez: A returning All-American, Hernandez will be the fourth seed at 197. With 31 wins and just one loss, the senior has his sights set on a top finish and another All-America honor. He and Nebraska's Caleb Kolb will mix it up in the first bout.
A new twist
The finals for the championships will be a different format this season. Traditionally, the finals began at the lowest weight and moved up through the heavyweights. This season, however, the finals will begin at 174 pounds and move through the upper weights, ending with the 165-pound bout.
UW's best finish since 1996 came on the strength of two top-eight finishers in 2012. The Pokes were 19th in the team standings, and Joe LeBlanc (seventh at 184) and Hernandez (sixth at 197) each earned All-America status.
Penn State, the two-time defending team champion, enters the championships as the pick to win it all again. InterMat and WIN Magazine each have the Nittany Lions at No. 1 in their final weekly ratings.