LARAMIE, Wyo. -
As far as season openers go, it doesn't get much tougher than this two-day stretch for the University of Wyoming wrestling team. The Pokes begin the 2014-15 regular season this weekend when UW welcomes the Nebraska Cornhuskers to Laramie for a dual matchup Friday, and hosts the 37th annual Cowboy Open tournament Saturday.
Up first on the docket is a 3 p.m. MT Friday contest against seventh-ranked Nebraska. No. 21 Wyoming faces NU in a nonconference matchup between regional rivals. The dual will be hosted in the Indoor Practice Facility as part of the Pepsi Pregame Zone festivities prior to the Wyoming football game versus Utah State that night.
As it is a busy day with a football game, parking will be limited. Wrestling fans are encouraged to park along the streets surrounding the UW Athletics Complex and walk to the IPF prior to the Nebraska dual. Admission to the Pepsi Pregame Zone is free to the public, but a ticket will be required to sit matside. Season-ticket holders and those on the guest pass list need to show up to the IPF by 2:30 p.m. to guarantee a seat. At 3 p.m., the bleachers will open for general seating to all in attendance, but space is limited.
On Saturday, the Cowboy Open takes place in War Memorial Fieldhouse. Start time for that event is 9 a.m. and runs all day until finals that evening.
A look at Wyoming
After a disappointing finish in the postseason in 2013-14, the Pokes are ready for a new campaign. UW won the regular-season conference title at 6-6, but finished second in the Western Wrestling Conference Championships and failed to have an All-America finisher at the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2008.
This season, UW is No. 21 in the dual polls and has four ranked wrestlers. Senior Tyler Cox (125 pounds) is eighth, senior Dakota Friesth (165) is 15th, sophomore Benjamin Stroh (184) is 16th and senior Shane Woods (197) is 13th.
Head coach Mark Branch enters his seventh season in 2014-15. Now fifth in program history in victories, he's posted 63 wins and a 30-3 conference mark in his tenure.
A look at Nebraska
The Huskers feature a talented and experienced squad this season. Head coach Mark Manning enters his 15th year at the helm and oversees a program with eight ranked competitors. NU was 11th at last year's NCAA Championships.
"It's one of the best teams they've had in the last several years," Branch said. "They are going to be a tough challenge for us. There are a handful of matches that we will compete in, but we have to turn competitive matches into victories to have a chance to be in the dual. If you come up short in several matches, it could get lopsided. If you find a way a way to pull victories out, you're going to see a really fun and competitive dual.
"We've had a lot of head-to-head matchups with their guys. We have to believe we have an opportunity here, to do something special against a great program. We don't schedule these top teams just to learn hard lessons. We schedule them because we want to compete and pull off upsets and victories."
Probable matchups - Wyoming vs. Nebraska
125 pounds: #8/9/10 Tyler Cox vs. #14/18/11 Tim Lambert (NU)
133: Drew Templeman vs. Eric Montoya (NU)
141: Cole Mendenhall vs. #17/NR/19 Anthony Abidin (NU)
149: Jake Elliott vs. Justin Arthur (NU)
157: Archie Colgan vs. #2/2/2 James Green (NU)
165: #15/16/19 Dakota Friesth vs. #14/15/13 Austin Wilson (NU)
174: Andy McCulley vs. #2/2/2 Robert Kokesh (NU)
184: #16/19/19 Benjamin Stroh vs. #13/18/12 T.J. Dudley (NU)
197: #16/13/14 Shane Woods vs. Micah Barnes (NU)
285: Tanner Harms OR Leland Pfeifer vs. #16/18/16 Collin Jensen (NU)
-Rankings based on most recent InterMat/Amateur Wrestling News/FloWrestling polls.
A look at the Cowboy Open
The 37th annual Cowboy Open is one of the largest tournaments in the West. The event features nearly 300 competitors and 14 teams. No team score will be kept but champions will be crowned at 10 weight classes in both Elite and Amateur brackets. This tournament has been a staple of the Cowboy Wrestling program, taking place over the span of five decades. The first Cowboy Open took place in 1974 under head coach Joe Dowler, and the Pokes have hosted it every year since then, with the exception of four seasons. Wyoming has hosted it for 25-straight seasons, since 1990-91.
The field will feature teams such as Boise State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Air Force and Northern Colorado.
"When you start out with a tough tournament, it's a good test of what you did in the preseason," Branch said. "It's a higher level of competition than we've had in recent years. After this weekend, I imagine we'll have more clarity about what our team is about but also a lot of direction about where we need to improve.
"I hope I see some indications that our kids stepped up and established themselves as competitors. We have a chance to go out there and prove we belong."