Oct. 9, 2012
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
After one of the most successful seasons in history, the Wyoming Cowboy wrestling program will take to the mat Wednesday for the first day of regular-season practice for the 2012-13 campaign.
Despite losing several talented wrestlers to graduation, expectations still are elevated for the Cowboys. Mark Branch enters his fifth year as head coach and he has his sights set on a fourth-straight Western Wrestling Conference title.
Top returners for the Cowboys include sophomore Zach Zehner, junior Patrick Martinez and senior Alfonso Hernandez, all of whom qualified for the NCAA Championships last year. Senior L.J. Helbig was a 2011 NCAA qualifier as well. Hernandez earned All-America honors at 197 pounds last season, finishing sixth.
"We have been anticipating the first practice for quite some time now," Branch said. "Our team is anxious and hungry and they know we have a short timetable to get prepared for some of our toughest competition.
"We will have less than a month to get ready for a very strong Boise State team so we have to get right to work. I think the most exciting thing is we have some guys who have stood in the shadows of some Wyoming Wrestling greats and now they see an opportunity to shine and stand out. We expect to continue to improve each week and each year until we climb to the top. It will be very fun to watch this team develop over the season."
Get ready, here it comes
The dual season begins with a bang this year, as the Cowboys host Boise State and Nebraska in the first two weeks of November. UW will battle 14th-ranked Boise State on Nov. 1 and 18th-ranked Nebraska on Nov. 11. Wyoming will host the Cowboy Open tournament on Nov. 3.
Keep the momentum
Last season, Wyoming finished 19th in the team standings at the NCAA Championships, the first top-20 finish since 1996. The Cowboys were 10-3 and 6-0 in Western Wrestling Conference action and return as one of the favorites in the conference race.
Changes in conference
The WWC will have a different look this season after Northern Iowa announced it would compete in the Mid-America Conference, effective in 2012-13. There now are six members of the WWC, including Wyoming, Air Force, South Dakota State, North Dakota State, Utah Valley and Northern Colorado.
The Cowboys are ranked No. 25 in the WIN Magazine preseason team poll and several Cowboys are ranked in the top 25 in the individual rankings. Zehner is 14th at 133, Martinez is 17th at 174 and Hernandez is fourth at 197.