Oct. 8, 2013
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
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With the first official practice of the season Thursday, the University of Wyoming wrestling team will begin the 2013-14 campaign with lofty expectations. After last season's action included nine dual wins and a first-place finish at the conference tournament, the UW coaching staff hopes this season features even more success.
Optimism in abundance
Now entering his sixth season at the helm, Wyoming head coach Mark Branch has aspirations of competing with the top teams in the nation. He already is one of the most successful coaches in team history, guiding the Pokes to nearly 60 dual wins and four-straight conference tournament titles. With the group of wrestlers he has assembled this season, he believes Wyoming can make a big splash on the national scene.
"It's always an exciting part of the year to be able to get them in the wrestling room in the full environment and start seeing how these guys are going to adapt to our practices," Branch said. "This is a unique year for me because we have a well-balanced team and we're not overloaded with older guys. We've got a lot of young guys that I'm pumped about seeing out there and we've got some veterans. It's a good mix. I have a lot of high expectations for this team. We're three weeks out from competition. It's time to get to work and it's all about business right now. We've got to get ready because we have an extremely challenging November."
A talented group
The top returners include a group of wrestlers who have made their mark on the program. Leading the way is 2013 All-America finisher Tyler Cox, who finished eighth in the nation at 125 pounds last season. He is joined by 2013 NCAA qualifiers with juniors Brandon Richardson (149 pounds), Andy McCulley (157) and Shane Woods (197). Returning starters and letterwinners like juniors Robert Stroh (149/157), Dakota Friesth (165) and Leland Pfeifer (184/197) add depth, while some talented newcomers include two transfers, senior Dallas Bailey (165) who comes to UW from Oklahoma State and redshirt freshman Brandon Tribble (197) from Western State in Colorado. Heavyweight sophomore Tanner Harms returns from injury, while senior Kyle Komata (141) has his eyes on a starting spot in his last season.
Where they rank
In the WIN Magazine Preseason team poll, UW was tabbed to finish 28th in the team standings at the NCAA Championships in March 2014. Individually, Cox was No. 6 in the rankings at 125 pounds, Richardson was 18th at 149 and McCulley was 13th at 157.
In the 2012-13 dual season, Wyoming went 9-6 overall and 4-1 in Western Wrestling Conference action to finish second in the league. In the postseason, UW won its fourth-straight conference crown with a thrilling, come-from-behind victory in the WWC Championships/NCAA West Regional tournament in Laramie. At the NCAA Championships, the Pokes finished 23rd with 20.5 points and had two All-America honorees.
Never one to shy away from top competition, Branch has the Cowboys wrestling some top opponents this year, including Boise State, Minnesota, Oregon State, Nebraska, Air Force, South Dakota State and North Dakota State. At home, UW faces Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Cal Poly, Northern Colorado and Utah Valley.
The postseason begins March 8 at the Western Wrestling Conference Championships/NCAA West Regional in Orem, Utah, and is capped off March 20-22 at the NCAA Championships in Oklahoma City, Okla.
When does it begin?
Action starts with the Brown vs. Gold Intrasquad dual on Nov. 1 at 5:30 p.m. in the UniWyo Sports Complex, followed by the 36th annual Cowboy Open tournament in the War Memorial Fieldhouse, which takes place all day Nov. 2.