April 3, 2012
OREM, Utah - Redshirt junior Alfonso Hernandez and redshirt freshman Zach Zehner were recognized for a stellar season Tuesday, as the Western Wrestling Conference announced postseason award winners for the 2011-12 season. The University of Wyoming's 197-pounder Hernandez was the unanimous WWC Wrestler of Year while the Cowboys' 133-pounder Zehner was named WWC Freshman of the Year.
These awards come in conjunction with another, as Wyoming head man Mark Branch was chosen by his peers as the WWC Coach of the Year for the third time in the past four years, announced March 4.
The Wrestler of the Year and Freshman of the Year awards were voted upon by the league's head coaches over the past week, while the Coach of the Year balloting was determined after the West Regional/WWC Tournament.
Wrestler of the Year: Wyoming - Alfonso Hernandez, RJr., 197 lbs., Blackfoot, Idaho (Blackfoot HS)
After missing all of last year with an injury, Hernandez had a stellar 2011-12 season that he capped by placing sixth at the 2012 NCAA Championships in St. Louis to earn his first All-America honors. The Blackfoot, Idaho, native entered the `Big Show' as the No. 9 seed and knocked off two higher-seeded competitors in No. 7 Mario Gonzalez from Illinois and No. 8 Matt Powless from Indiana en route to placing sixth.
Hernandez won his first West Regional/WWC Championship title to earn his inaugural trip to the NCAA Championships. He posted a team-high 40 wins (40-8) on the season and went 11-1 in dual matches. The Cowboy also went a perfect 11-0 against competitors from the WWC and recorded 16 of his wins via major decision, two by technical fall and one by fall.
Hernandez was ranked No. 9 in the final NCAA Coaches Rankings at 197 pounds and was No. 8 in the final RPI. He also won two tournaments on the year (Northwest Open and UNK Open) and placed third at the Reno Tournament of Champions and fourth at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.
Freshman of the Year: Wyoming - Zach Zehner, RFr., 133 lbs., Tomahawk, Wis. (Tomahawk HS)
Zehner qualified for NCAA Championships for first time by earning an automatic bid after he placed second at the West Regional/WWC Championships. At nationals, he made it to the round of 24 and finished with a 1-2 record.
The Tomahawk, Wis., native finished the year with a 29-13 record. Those 29 wins included five over ranked opponents, including a victory over a top-five ranked foe. Zehner also went 9-4 in dual action and 7-2 against competitors from the WWC. He posted nine of his wins by fall, six by major decision and one by technical fall. He also started every match at 133 pounds for the Cowboys.
Zehner was ranked 15th on the final coaches' poll and 10th on the final RPI. He was named the WWC Wrestler of the Week on Dec. 13 and placed second at the Reno Tournament of Champions and fifth at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational. Zehner was also recently named the 2011-12 D1CollegeWrestling.net WWC Freshman of the Year as well.
Coach of the Year: Mark Branch (Wyoming)
Branch, who completed his fourth season as the Cowboys' head coach, was named the 2011-12 WWC Coach of the Year. The honor is Branch's third during his tenure at Wyoming, as he was previously named the Coach of the Year following his first season, 2008-09, and last year (2010-11) as well. This year, Branch led his team to its third consecutive West Regional/WWC Tournament Championship as the Pokes led the way at the qualifying tournament with 93.5 points, finishing 17.5 points ahead of UNI, which placed second. He also led Wyoming to a first-place WWC regular-season finish with a perfect 6-0 dual record in league matches.
Branch led his 2011-12 club to a 10-3 overall record and a No. 11 national ranking on the final NWCA/USA Today Division I Team Coaches Poll. He also helped Wyoming qualify a conference-high six wrestlers to the NCAA Championships and coached two more All-Americans as 197-pounder Hernandez placed sixth and 184-pounder Joe LeBlanc finished seventh at the championships. He also coached Wyoming's first-ever four-time All-American as the senior LeBlanc stepped on the podium for the fourth-straight season.
The Western Wrestling Conference is comprised of seven schools including the Air Force Academy, North Dakota State, Northern Colorado, Northern Iowa, South Dakota State, Utah Valley and Wyoming. The conference formed in April 2006.