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Poke wrestling starts season in top 25


Staff member
Oct. 1, 2010


A fair amount of success and national recognition during the past few years have resulted in preseason team rankings for the 2010-11 University of Wyoming Cowboy Wrestling program. Three national, wrestling-specific media organizations have recently released their preseason lists of the top-25 teams at the NCAA DI level, and the `Pokes were included in each of those rankings.

Amateur Wrestling News ranked Wyoming at No. 22, WIN Magazine placed the Cowboys in a three-way tie for 21st, while The Open Mat web site has UW at No. 22.

"That is about where I thought we would be to begin this year," shared UW head coach Mark Branch. "We have a lot of unknown variables on our team this year, but I feel really good about our potential.

"Rankings are for the fans at this point, so from a fan standpoint it's good to see Wyoming in the Top-25," continued Branch. "We have had to work long and hard to get noticed the last couple years, and it's nice to be on the radar from the beginning. I think that will help us out.

UW's head man concluded by saying, "We've got to go out and earn our place this season, and we certainly don't want it to be around 20th. That is not what we are shooting for. We are aiming higher. We've got to take those unknown variables that we have and continue to surprise people. The fact that we've earned some respect is good, but now we need to go out and earn a different kind of respect at a higher level. We are not just wanting to be in the rankings, we want to be right up there with the big boys. With our schedule this season, we have the opportunity to go head-to-head with some of the best schools in the country. That will show us where we stand and we'll see if some of the new faces in our lineup are up to the challenge."

All three of the afore-mentioned media outlets also released individual rankings and the Cowboys were consistently mentioned at several weights.

UW's two-time All-American Joe LeBlanc, a junior at 184 pounds, was ranked No. 2 in the nation by each of the three news organizations. The unanimous favorite in that weight class is 2010 NCAA finalist Kirk Smith from Boise State.

Fellow Cowboy juniors Michael Martinez and Shane Onufer were also included in all three rankings, however both wrestlers will be making weight class changes this season, so they were listed at different weights in different rankings. Martinez will start the year by moving up a weight class from 125 to 133 pounds and was ranked as high as 11th by The Open Mat at 133. Onufer will go in the opposite direction and will move down from 165 to 157 pounds. He was listed as high as No. 9 by Amateur Wrestling News at 157.

Both Martinez and Onufer are two-time West Regional champions and two-time NCAA qualifiers. Martinez wrestled his first two seasons at 125, while Onufer has dropped down from 174 as a freshman and 165 as a sophomore.

UW Wrestling concluded last season by winning its first-ever NCAA West Regional Team Championship, defending its regular-season dual title in the Western Wrestling Conference and earning a No. 25 national ranking in the National Wrestling Coaches Association/USA Today poll. Wyoming had an overall season record of 12-3, 6-0 in the WWC.

For the 2010-11 season, Mark Branch returns as head coach for his third year at the helm, and he has added depth to the program, with 16 newcomers on the squad, as well as four team members who redshirted last season. Including LeBlanc, Martinez and Onufer, UW also returns nine starters from last year.

The `Pokes open the 2010-11 season by hosting the 38th Annual Cowboy Open, presented by UniWyo Federal Credit Union, Nov. 13, all day in War Memorial Fieldhouse.

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