Three juniors and one redshirt freshman make up UW contingent
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UW brings home six tournament titles in Elite brackets
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Overall record: 63-28, 30-3 Western Wrestling Conference
In his six seasons, UW head man Mark Branch has raised the expectations of Cowboy Wrestling to unprecedented heights. He's upped the profile of Wyoming Wrestling and brought the program notoriety and name recognition with levels of success rarely seen in the program's history. With 63 dual wins and a 91 percent win rate within the conference ranks, Branch has established the Cowboys as the team to beat in the Western Wrestling Conference. Branch has compiled a 30-3 mark against WWC foes with four regular-season dual titles.
In his latest campaign, he helped bring the Pokes back from a 1-6 start in dual action to finish 6-6 overall, but more importantly, 4-1 in WWC duals to win the regular-season title. The Cowboys knocked off 19th-ranked North Dakota State in the season finale to win the crown. In tournament action, UW brought home two Reno Tournament of Champions titles and placed two at the Las Vegas Invitational. Beginning the postseason in the West Regional, UW claimed three more weight-class crowns to up Branch's total to 23 in six seasons. The Pokes were second in the event, as the squad has placed first or second in each of the previous six years. Currently, 45 Cowboys have been named to the All-WWC squad.
Four Pokes earned bids to the NCAA Championships, bringing the head man's total to 31 over six years. UW failed to earn an All-America honor for the first time in Branch's tenure. Under Branch, UW has had eight All-America finishers.
"Mark has done a phenomenal job since 2008 in terms of developing a nationally competitive program and helping our student-athletes achieve their goals," Wyoming Athletic Director Tom Burman said. "He and his family have proven to be a great fit for Wyoming and he understands the state and the values of its residents. The Cowboys have reached unprecedented heights on the mat and in the classroom and I expect that to continue into the foreseeable future."
The team found success under Branch in 2012-13, finishing 23rd at the NCAA Championships thanks to seven NCAA qualifiers and two All-Americans. Milestones for the program under Branch include first-time wins over Cal Poly and Oklahoma in 2012, and being named a top-25 academic program by the National Wrestling Coaches Association in 2013. In 2013, he and the Pokes finished 23rd with 20.5 points at the NCAA Championships, just the 17th time in program history UW has finished in the top 25. He guided two Cowboys to All-America finishes, including two-time AA Alfonso Hernandez (seventh at 197 pounds) and Tyler Cox, who was eighth at 125.
With Branch's help, Joe LeBlanc capped off a stellar career in 2012, earning four All-America nods, the first wrestler in UW history to do so. That same season, UW finished 19th in the team standings in 2012, the first top-20 finish for the Pokes since 1996. The dual season was a successful one, as the Cowboys were 10-3 and a 6-0 in WWC action. Wyoming won its third-straight West Regional tournament team title as four Wyoming wrestlers won titles.
In 2010-11, Branch had a stellar campaign. After spending the season ranked in the top 20 in the nation, Wyoming won its second consecutive West Regional title with five individual titles. Branch was named Western Wrestling Conference Coach of the Year at the event for a second time in his career. Branch also helped six Cowboys earn berths to the NCAA Championships. Shane Onufer (165) and LeBlanc (184) earned All-America honors by placing fifth and sixth, respectively, to lead Wyoming to a 28th-place team finish.
During the season, the Cowboys compiled an 11-7 overall dual mark and 5-1 in the WWC. UW's lone dual loss in WWC action came against Northern Iowa and was Branch's only dual loss in the WWC.
In 2009-10, Branch directed the Cowboy wrestlers to the West Regional team title over the 24-time defending champion Northern Iowa Panthers with three Cowboy individual titles. The come-from-behind championship was Wyoming's first-ever West Regional team title and UW's first tournament conference championship team since 1992. The effort qualified four UW wrestlers for the NCAA Championships, as LeBlanc went on to finish fourth at the event to earn his second All-America accolade and was named the WWC Wrestler of the Year. The Cowboys claimed 33rd in the final team standings, as Branch was named the 2010 West Region Coach of the Year by D1CollegeWrestling.net. Shortly after he signed a contract extension to remain at UW through 2013.
Wyoming also had a successful dual season in 2009-10, winning the WWC regular-season dual title for the second straight year with an overall season record to 12-3 and a WWC record of 6-0. The Pokes ended the regular season 25th in the nation in the National Wrestling Coaches' Association/USA Today Coaches poll. UW had seven wrestlers earn All-WWC honors.
On July 14, 2008, Branch was selected as the 14th head coach in the history of the University of Wyoming Wrestling program. Branch's first season guiding the Cowboys (2008-09) signaled an immediate turnaround for the program. UW earned a share of the WWC regular-season dual title with a 5-0 record. At the West Regional tournament, Wyoming finished second with four champions and sent four Cowboys to the NCAA Championships, where LeBlanc finished fifth to become the first freshman in UW wrestling history to earn All-America honors.
"For me, this is the realization of my goal to become an NCAA head coach," Branch said. "I'm from a competitive background, and I was looking for a place where I could build a nationally competitive program. I believe there is a great deal of support from the Athletic Department and the University as a whole at Wyoming. Wyoming is the right program for me and the right fit for my family and I. I appreciate the confidence that Tom Burman and (UW Senior Associate Athletics Director) Matt Whisenant have shown in me to get the job done."
Branch was instrumental in the creation of the Wyoming Wrestling Regional Training Center in September 2011. The WWRTC is based out of the UniWyo Sports Complex. The certification allows Olympic hopefuls at any age group to train in Laramie to compete in international competitions. Branch serves as a coach in the RTC, and in the past, his teams have participated at various World Team training camps. He has coached at the U.S. Nationals and World/Olympic Team Trials.
Following his first season at UW, Branch was named WWC Coach of the Year, the West Region Coach of the Year by D1CW and the Top Rookie Coach in the nation by Amateur Wrestling News. Branch also oversaw a squad which earned nine All-WWC honors in 2008-09, the most of any WWC member institution. He was nominated by his peers to be a part of the 2009 National Wrestling Coaches Association Leadership Academy Class.
Branch came to Wyoming from Oklahoma State University where he was the associate head wrestling coach for six years, as well as a four-time NCAA finalist as a student-athlete. He was a part of five NCAA team championships as a coach and student-athlete at OSU. As a college wrestler, Branch was a member of OSU's 1994 NCAA Championship team, and served on the coaching staff for OSU's 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 NCAA titles.
While competing for OSU, Branch was a four-time NCAA All-American (1994-97), four-time NCAA national finalist (1994-97), two-time NCAA national champion at 167 pounds (1994 and `97) and a two-time national freestyle All-American (1998 and `99). In 1997, he was named the Big XII Athlete of the Year, OSU Student-Athlete of the Year and the top graduating senior for OSU Wrestling. He was a four-time NWCA Academic All-American, received an NCAA Post-Graduate Scholarship Award and a Big XII Post-Graduate Scholarship Award.
As a member of the OSU coaching staff, Branch was named the National Wrestling Coaches' Association (NWCA) Assistant Coach of the Year in 2004. He helped coach OSU to seven Big XII Championships, four NCAA Championships and three Dual Team Championships. He was named the associate head coach at OSU in 2002 and served as an assistant coach for five years prior to that. He coached 57 All-Americans and 16 NCAA champions.
Branch earned his bachelor of science degree in secondary education from Oklahoma State in 1997 and earned his master of science degree in athletic administration from OSU in 2000.
A native of Newkirk, Okla., he and his wife Susan have a daughter, Maggie Belle, and a son, Mason Layne.