Nov. 14, 2003
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
The Wyoming Cowboy wrestling program has always had astrong-winning tradition; 23 All-Americans, 147 ConferenceChampions, 19 Conference titles, and for 14 seasons underthe direction of head coach Steven Suder 53 Cowboys havecompeted at the NCAA Championships.
The 2003-04 Cowboys will continue that tradition with thereturn of a dominating lineup. With talented veterans,dedicated underclassmen and, of course, a "Cowboy Tough"attitude the Pokes look to leave their mark on the program'sgreat history.
Heading into his 15th season at the helm, Suder returnseight starters from last season including 2003 NCAAqualifiers Levi Prevost, Kevin Kessner and Andrew Shuler.
"We are excited about the wrestlers we have this year,"said Suder. "There are eight potentially returningstarters and we also have some younger guys that are goingto battle for those top spots, because going into the seasonnobody has a sure spot on this team."
The solid core of Poke veterans is headlined by three-timeNCAA qualifier senior Levi Prevost, who won the 2003 WestRegional title in the 165 pound weight class. He heads intothis year ranked eighth in the country.
Kevin Kessner and Andrew Shuler both made their NCAAChampionship debuts last year, both via wild-cardnominations at the 2003 West Regional. The two seniors givethe Pokes an edge of consistency in their weight classes, asthey look to end their careers with another trip to theNCAA's.
Another Cowboy senior that will lead the charge this seasonis Blake Gunter. Gunter won 20 matches last season wrestlingat the 141 pound slot. The Pokes will also rely on seniorTrevor Murray for leadership. Murray wrestled in threedifferent weight classes for the Pokes last year winning 19matches. He ended the season as the starter at 174 pounds.
"We have five seniors that have competed very well for usover the years," added Suder. "They all want to improveon last season and finish strong before there time is donehere at UW."
Along with a strong senior class, the Pokes are excitedabout their sophomore wrestlers as well. Four second-yeargrapplers started throughout last season for coach Suder.184 pounder Sam Wendland was a big surprise for UW a yearago. As the only true freshman in last year's lineup,Wendland went 13-16 with one pin and three major decisions.Lightweights Bryce Leonhardt (125 lbs) and Tyson Shatto (133lbs) won a combined 33 matches last season giving the Pokesstability in the upper weights. Also, coming on strong atthe end of last season was Patrick Shuler. The Virginianative stepped up and performed well in the lineup at 149pounds after the semester break.
"Our young guys got a taste of what college wrestling isall about last season, and I think they are hungry for more.You can't call a wrestlers first year in the lineupexperience, survival is a better term. These guys allsurvived, and will improve significantly because of thatthis season."
The Pokes put up some great numbers during the 2002-03season. They won 10 dual matches, the most since 1990. FourUW wrestler's competed at the NCAA Championships and theteam won the Cowboy Duals. However, the season ended on adown side with a bitter 4th place finish at the 2003 NCAAWest Regional. The Pokes finished with 51 points, and camejust eight and a half points from second place.
"Last season's finish at the West Regional left abitter taste in our mouth. We were not satisfied at all. Icould tell you a couple of instances that could have changedat a drop of a hat that would have put us in second place,but that was last year. I know the guys are going to keepthat in mind this season. I won't have to remind them ofit because they will be reminding themselves, that's howfrustrating it was."
Suder and his Pokes will once again have their hands fullwith a difficult schedule this season. The Cowboys travel totop-notched tournaments at the Nebraska-Omaha Open, the LasVegas Invite, the Midlands Championships and the VirginiaDuals. They also travel out west to face Pac-10 foesPortland State, Oregon State and Boise State.
Big XII power Nebraska highlights the Pokes home schedulealong with duals with Northern Colorado and Cal-StateFullerton. Two of the bigger home events for the programwill be the 31st Cowboy Open to start the season on Nov.15th and senior night, Feb. 25th, when the Pokes end theregular season with West Regional rival Air Force.
"I think our two big events (Cowboy Open and Air Force)will be great along with all our home duals. We don't getto compete at home to much, so it always special when we getto schedule some great competition on our home turf."
Suder and his Cowboys have what it takes to make the2003-04 season one Wyoming wrestling fans won't want tomiss. As they embark on their long season, redemption is theonly thing on their minds. Finishing strong as a team at the2004 West Regional is the only thing they are focussed on,and bringing back a championship trophy is the only thingthey expect to do.