Cowboys Claim Third-Straight West Regional Title
March 4, 2012
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -
Six Cowboy wrestlers punched their ticket to the NCAA Championships and Wyoming won its third consecutive tournament title in the Western Wrestling Conference Championships/NCAA West Regional on Sunday.
Wyoming entered the final round with a slim lead over second-place Northern Iowa, and added to the margin from there, scoring 93.5 points. That was good enough to outlast Northern Iowa, which finished with 76 points.
Seven UW wrestlers wrestled in the championship final, including senior Michael Martinez (125 pounds), redshirt freshman Zach Zehner (133), senior Shane Onufer (165), sophomore Pat Martinez (174), senior Joe LeBlanc (184), redshirt junior Alfonso Hernandez (197) and junior L.J. Helbig at heavyweight. Six of those qualified for the NCAA Championships with automatic bids, including Michael Martinez, Zehner, Onufer, Pat Martinez, LeBlanc and Hernandez.
"I don't think it was our best performance," said Wyoming coach Mark Branch, who was named WWC Coach of the Year for the third time. "There were a couple of matches that we didn't anticipate being a really tight battle, but we were in one. I liked the way that our kids responded. They found themselves in those spots (and) all of a sudden were in a dogfight, and had to grit their teeth and dig it out. That was good because those are things we'll have to do in a couple of weeks (at the NCAAs).
"I don't mind being in tight matches right now. Obviously it's easier on me as a coach, to see them pick up a tech fall or a fall, but when you know you're in those tight battles, those kids can build off that experience."
Michael Martinez's mission to win four straight WWC titles at 125 pounds fell a bit short, as he met North Dakota State's Trent Sprenkle in the title tilt. Sprenkle clipped Martinez in a 4-2 decision. In the true-second matchup, Martinez edged Air Force's Greg Rinker in a 9-8 decision. Martinez went 2-1 on the day and now sits in seventh place on UW's all-time wins list with 115.
Zehner was second at 133 pounds, finishing 1-1. He defeated Air Force's Tyler Untrauer to begin the tournament, but fell to top-seeded Joe Colon of Northern Iowa in a 9-1 major decision.
Redshirt freshman Andy McCulley lost a heartbreaker in the third-place match at 157. He went 2-2 for the tournament, but couldn't overcome Air Force's Josh Kreimier, dropping a 5-3 decision in overtime.
Onufer won his fourth straight WWC title with a dominating 8-0 major decision over Northern Colorado's Gabe Burak in the title match. Onufer went 3-0 on the day with three major decisions. He is Wyoming's second four-time conference champion, along with Frank Stray (1948-51).
Pat Martinez went 3-0 in the 174-pound bracket for his second-straight WWC title, and LeBlanc capped off a successful tournament with a 3-0 mark with one pin. It was LeBlanc's third WWC title in his career and he moved into first place on UW's all-time wins list with 143.
Hernandez qualified for the NCAAs for the first time in his career, cruising to a 3-0 record with three major decisions.
"The six guys that are for sure going are the six that we know can help us do something as a team," Branch added. "I feel positive that we kept ourselves in good position for seeding. Winning another team title is just the way to end this year."
The final 40 at-large bids will be announced Wednesday. The national finals are in the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on March 15-17.
Zach Zehner, 133 - 2nd (NCAA Qualifier)
Chase Smith, 141
Levi Wolfensperger (Northern Iowa) fall (5:48 ) Smith
McCade Ford, 149
Andy McCulley, 157 - 4th
Shane Onufer, 165 - 1st (NCAA Qualifer)
Pat Martinez, 174 - 1st (NCAA Qualifier)
Joe LeBlanc, 184 - 1st (NCAA Qualifer)
Alfonso Hernandez, 197 - 1st (NCAA Qualifier)
L.J. Helbig, 285 - 2nd
Final Team Scores