Dec. 7, 2011
Wyoming coach Mark Branch and his Cowboy wrestling squad will face quite a test this weekend.
The Pokes will compete in their first dual of the season Saturday as they travel to Lincoln, Neb., to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Matches will begin at 6 p.m. Mountain Time.
A look at the Huskers
Considered one of the top wrestling programs in the country, Nebraska heads into Saturday with a 4-0 mark in duals this year, with wins over Bucknell, Kent State, North Carolina and Navy. Six Nebraska starters are ranked in the top 20 this season, including three in the top 10.
The Huskers were ranked 21st in the latest NWCA/USA Today Coaches Poll, a dual-based ranking, which was released Tuesday.
Branch believes his team matches up well in every weight class, but the Huskers will be a challenge on their own turf.
On Jan. 17, 2010, the Cowboys upset the Huskers 29-10 in Lincoln. But Nebraska got its revenge just 11 months, beating Wyoming 20-12 in Laramie on Dec. 4, 2010.
"Looking at the matchups, from top to bottom, every match is competitive. I think our best kids match up with some of their best kids," Branch said. "It's going to be a dogfight. We're going to have to go in and really wrestle well. Two years ago, we went there and wrestled really well at their place.
"We have a lot of new faces in the lineup, so it's not the same team but I think these guys can go on the road and perform well. Every effort is going to count. I think it's going to be that kind of dual. There's a ton of matches that could go either way. We have to go in there and wrestle our best and it's a dual that means a lot to this program."
The Cowboys will ride into town with a boatload of confidence from their performances in the Las Vegas Invitational, which included two event titles and five additional placers. But there's a fine line the Pokes must walk.
"With our showing at Las Vegas, they feel like we're a better team and that helps," Branch said. "That being said, we need to make sure that we keep these kids focused and calm. It's our first dual. All we've had up to this point is tournaments. Now we're forced to feel those emotions that come with a dual. Those things can help or hurt you. We need to make sure they don't get caught up in the atmosphere. We're not by any means highlighting this as the crowning moment of the season, but we want to go in there and win. It is important, so they should get excited. The biggest thing is keeping them from getting too amped up, and not letting them get carried away with emotions."
Here are the probable matchups, with Wyoming wrestlers listed first.
133: No. 16 Zach Zehner, RS Fr. (14-5) vs. No. 18 Ridge Kiley, Jr. (7-4)
149: Brandon Richardson, RS Fr. (14-6) vs. Brandon Wilbourn, RFr. (4-4)
157: Dakota Friesth, RS Fr. (16-7) vs. No. 16 James Green, Fr. (14-3)
165: No. 3 Shane Onufer, Sr. (11-0) vs. No. 10 Robert Kokesh, RFr. (12-2)
174: No. 18 Patrick Martinez, So. (17-5) vs. Tyler Koehn, Jr. (9-4)
184: No. 3 Joe LeBlanc. Sr. (11-0) vs. No. 10 Josh Ihnen, Jr. (9-1)
197: No. 13 Alfonso Hernandez, RS Jr. (17-3) OR L.J. Helbig, Jr. (8-6) vs. James Nakashima, Sr. (8-3)
Hwt: Leland Pfiefer, RS Fr. (9-4) vs. No. 10 Tucker Lane, Sr. (10-2)