Oct. 26, 2009
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
Expectations will run high for the Wyoming Cowboy Wrestling `Young Guns' in 2009-10, as head coach Mark Branch enters his second year at the controls of the program and after a successful 2008-09 campaign branded UW as a team on the rise in the world of collegiate wrestling.
UW returns 11 letterwinners for the 2009-10 season, four NCAA qualifiers including All-American Joe LeBlanc, and boasts a recruiting class that was recognized by numerous national publications for its' potential at the NCAA level.
Of 24 Wyoming squad members this season, 20 are underclassmen, meaning this talented young team will represent UW on the wrestling mat for multiple years to come.
Several media outlets have listed the Cowboys in their preseason top-25 team polls, in addition to D1CollegeWrestling.net, InterMat, TheOpenMat.com and W.I.N. Magazine each ranking UW's recruiting class in the nation's top 20.
"My expectations for this team are always high," Branch quoted. "However, this year the team has the same mind-set that I do. They believe that they are capable of the very highest level both as a team and individually, meaning a national title. I will never tell them otherwise because I have seen amazing things happen first-hand. I believe in the work ethic and skills of our guys and I know they will give me everything I ask of them."
Twelve returning team members saw dual match action last season when the Cowboys grabbed a share of the regular season Western Wrestling Conference dual championship with a record of 15-3 overall, 5-0 in the WWC. The 2008-09 UW team also had a runner-up finish at the West Regional/WWC Tournament, four individual champions and automatic NCAA qualifiers, as well as nine of 10 wrestlers placing in the top-three of their weight class which led the WWC. Branch was the league's Coach of the Year and was selected as the Top Rookie Coach in the nation by Amateur Wrestling News.
"As far as specific team goals, I will say that after coming so close last year at the conference tournament we definitely want to win that league title and bring that trophy back to Laramie," Branch continued. "Another focal point will be sending ten guys to the NCAA Tournament. As I look up and down our lineup I see that as a realistic possibility."
Despite Wyoming's youth, the team should not have to rely on any true freshmen at any of the ten weight classes, so the training approach and scheduling approach has been adjusted by the UW coaching staff to match the squad's needs for the 2009-10 season.
"Our approach to preseason training has changed this year since the coaching staff has a better idea of what we have to work with," Branch observed. "There is more of a focus on mat wrestling, more top and bottom work, since we emphasized technique on our feet all of last season. We are trying to address areas where we saw needs and ones that will make us better.
"Last year we had a young, unproven team that simply needed live experience. They wrestled more matches than I will probably ever ask of them again, but it was to their benefit. This year, although our team numbers are not where I would like them, we do have options and experience at every weight. Our goal will be to keep the guys healthy, rested and strong, while at the same time facing tougher opponents, and a wide variety of opponents which will help our chances in the NCAA qualification process.
"Our schedule will be considerably tougher this year, as we have tried to expose our team to competition across the country. There were really two key elements we considered when putting together our schedule. One, we want to wrestle elite competition, so that when championship time comes around we have confidence knowing we are prepared. Two, we wanted to cater to our fans and provide more opportunities to watch Cowboy Wrestling in Laramie.
"We are eagerly anticipating our home events. In addition to hosting the Cowboy Open we have seven dual match-ups, which include the most successful wrestling program in history in Oklahoma State, Northern Iowa and several of our other conference rivals."
The Cowboys will have a chance to qualify for the NCAA National Tournament by earning automatic or wild-card bids at the West Regional Tournament and WWC Championship, March 6, 2010 in Brookings, S.D.
This year's NCAA Wrestling Championships will be held March 18-20 at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Neb.
"Everything that we do as a program is in preparation for the postseason," Branch concludes. "We should be well prepared when that time comes because of the effort we have put into training and because we will have challenged our team during the season against tough teams, in tough tournaments and in tough environments."
WEIGHT CLASS BREAKDOWN
125 - 2009 NCAA qualifier Michael Martinez returns at this weight and should make it a strength for the team. The Cowboy sophomore's participation this past summer in the Senior World Team Trials, as well as his successful freshman year will further his confidence with three years of remaining eligibility. Freshman Tyler Cox brings a list of impressive prep credentials, but will likely use his redshirt year.
133 - Senior Cory VomBaur, a three-time NCAA qualifier at this weight, will move up to 141 leaving a void that redshirt freshman Kasey Garnhart is poised to fill. Garnhart is an unknown on the national scene, but has impressed the UW coaches with his hard work and competitive nature. Freshmen Jake Eitzen and Kyle Komata give depth here but should redshirt.
141 - An interesting and exciting group that features three starters from last season who are changing weight classes. VomBaur, who is moving up, and sophomore Chase Smith, who is moving down from 149. Both are experienced, but both may move back to their original weights before season's end. Last year's starter at this weight, junior Cole Dallaserra, is moving up to 149. Newcomers Jimmy Belleville and Colton Zier will also factor into this group, with Belleville expected to redshirt.
149 - Dallaserra will get the nod to start the season here based on his experience. He has hit the weight room hard and has the frame to wrestle at this weight after coming up from 141. Dallaserra came into his own at the end of last year before struggling with an injury. Belleville and Chase Smith could also wrestle at 149.
157 - There is a three-way toss-up at this weight. Sophomores Tyler Davis and Mikah Kadera, as well as redshirt freshman Eric Jones are all on a level playing field. It is a competitive group with depth and it will be interesting to see who rises to the top. Davis has some dual experience and competed in the recent FILA Junior World Team Trials, Kadera got in 22 matches last year, while Jones is very talented, but had a tough initial adjustment to college.
165 - This is another deep weight class for UW, with sophomore Shane Onufer, a 2009 NCAA qualifier at 174, moving down and senior Alex Rieder remaining a viable option. Onufer's body should be a better natural fit in this group than at 174. Sophomore Brock Smith could also wrestle down at this weight. Freshman Patrick Martinez should use his redshirt year here.
174 - There are a lot of good options in this group, including sophomore Dallas Hintz, Rieder and Brock Smith. Competition will drive the market here as all three are very equal and any one could go for the `Pokes. All are team players, will do what is asked of them and are very natural at this weight. Onufer could also wrestle here if needed.
184 - Returning All-American Joe LeBlanc has come back working harder than ever and he headlines the upper weights for UW. The Cowboy sophomore competed for a Junior FILA World Team spot this past summer and wants nothing less than an NCAA title in 2010. Redshirt freshmen Lee (LJ) Helbig and Michael Poulos, as well as sophomore Joe O'Farrell give depth here and should be able to spell LeBlanc when he has the opportunity to rest.
197 - The UW coaches feel good about this weight as sophomore Alfonso Hernandez started most of last year and is the odds on favorite to win the spot in 2009-10. Helbig and O'Farrell will also try to make the travelling squad here. Hernandez is still a raw athlete, but did taste success last year and should challenge to win the conference title after working hard on all aspects of his wrestling.
Hwt. - Junior transfer Matthew McLaughlin is the only true heavyweight on the Wyoming team, but there is a good feeling about his presence in this spot. He was successful at the junior college level and is a hard worker. The key will be to keep McLaughlin healthy and in order to accomplish that any one of the Cowboy 197 pounders could wrestle up if the opportunity presents itself against smaller opponent heavyweights.