2012-13 Preview: Wyoming Cowboys look to rope third straight Western championship

Updated: September 26, 2012

This is part of WIN’s on-going preseason look at all ten NCAA-qualifying conferences/tournaments.

Click here to read WIN’s other conference previews.


Qualifying Tournament for the NCAA:

March 9, 2013 @ University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyom. (The postseason tournament is called the NCAA West Regional)

Last Year’s NCAA Western Regional Finish in Cedar Falls, Iowa:

1. Wyoming, 93.5; 2. Northern Iowa, 76; 3. North Dakota State, 51.5; 4. Air Force, 50.5; 5. Utah Valley, 43.5; 6. Northern Colorado, 36.5; 7. South Dakota State, 5

Last Year’s WWC Performance in the NCAA Tournament:

The WWC sent 17 wrestlers to St. Louis — one less than in 2011 — and only Wyoming left the Arch City with an All-American as Alfonzo Hernandez claimed sixth place at 197 pounds and Joe LeBlanc was a seventh-place finisher at 184 pounds. LeBlanc, who became his school’s only four-time All-American, sadly ended his career when he was seeded No. 1 but lost to Appalachian State’s Austin Trotman in the quarterfinals and to Minnesota’s Kevin Steinhaus in a second wrestleback before beating Nebraska’s Josh Ihnen in the seventh-place match.

2012-13 Note: The WWC will be without Northern Iowa, which once dominated the Western Regional before joining the Mid-American Conference this season.



1. Wyoming — Alfonzo Hernandez may have been the Cowboys’ surprise All-American last year considering the native of Blackfoot, Idaho, possessed just a 45-35 in two previous years and redshirted in 2010-11. But the “Fonz” came alive last season when he dominated the WWC by scoring major decisions in three Western Regional matches to qualify for his first NCAA. He was seeded No. 9 and reached the quarterfinals before losing to eventual champ Cam Simaz of Cornell. In the wrestlebacks, he won two matches by one point each before settling for sixth place.

Wyoming’s Alfonzo Hernandez was just 45-35 in two years before earning his first All-American honor at 197 pounds last March.

Overall, coach Mark Branch sent six wrestlers to the NCAAs last March and Hernandez is one of three Cowboys with national experience returning this season. The other two are sophomore Zach Zehner, who earned 29 wins at 133 pounds last year, and 174-pound junior Patrick Martinez, who was 35-12 in 2011-12. Each recorded one win in last year’s NCAAs.

Branch also is welcoming back 125-pound Tyler Cox, a four-time Wyoming state high school champion and member of the 2007 U.S. Junior World freestyle team. Cox took an Olympic redshirt last season after compiling a 25-13 mark between 125 and 133.

2. North Dakota State — Roger Kish, just the fourth head coach in the 54-year history of Bison wrestling, begins his second year at the NDSU helm. He surely brings with him high expectations for his team. He competed for Minnesota between 2004 and 2008 when he twice finished second nationally.

Fortunately for Kish, he returns three wrestlers who competed in last year’s NCAAs, seniors Trent Sprenkle (125) and MacKain Stoll (184) and junior Steven Monk, who is moving up to 165 after finishing 35-9 at 157 last year.

After going 10-17 as a true freshman in 2008-09, Sprenkle took a redshirt and then has won 65 of 90 matches the past two seasons, including last year when he was 33-12 and came within one win of All-American honors. Stoll earned a wildcard spot to last year’s NCAAs after earning his second All-WWC honor.

3. Air Force — Head coach Joel Sharratt returns for his seventh year with the academy … with both of his competitors from last year’s NCAAs: 149-pound senior Cole VonOhlen and 157-pound junior Josh Kreimer.

Unfortunately, neither has earned an All-American honor — the last to finish in the Top 8 for Air Force was 2003 national runner-up Kevin Hoy (Hwt). But both came close in St. Louis, last March.

VonOhlen, the native of Jackson, Minn., finished 37-4 overall and was seeded No. 3 in St. Louis. He was knocked off in the quarterfinals by Pitt’s Tyler Nauman and was eliminated in his first wrestleback by Ohio State’s Cam Tessari, 5-4, in the Round of 12. The three-time NCAA qualifier returns with a 112-22 career mark.

Kreimer, who was 26-16 last spring, won his first round in St. Louis before losing to eventual champ Kyle Dake of Cornell. In consolation, the native of Ft. Collins, Colo., won two matches, including pinning former Binghamton All-American Justin Lister before Penn State’s Dylan Alton eliminated him in the Round of 12.

4. Utah Valley — Senior Josh Wilson, who finished 20-11 at 149 pounds, is the only Wolverine who competed in last year’s Nationals for coach Greg Williams … and fared quite well by winning a pair of matches, including over Rutgers’ Mario Mason.

Utah Valley’s NCAA representation should grow in 2012-13, especially with the emergence of two pair of talented twin brothers and redshirt freshmen: Jade (125) and Val (133) Rauser and Chase (157) and Kyle (165) Cuthbertson.

The Rausers are natives of Townsend, Mont., and brought with them a total of eight state high school championships and several Fargo national titles. The Cuthbertsons hail from Scottsboro, Ala., and together also won multiple state championships and made their names known at the Cadet and Junior Nationals.

5. Northern Colorado — 165-pound Gabe Burak, who returned to his native Colorado to end his career in Greeley after qualifying for two NCAAs with Penn, was the only Bear to compete in St. Louis last March. But coach Ben Cherrington — the former NCAA champion from Boise State who took over the UNC helm in 2010 — has talent in his room. Among those is 149-pound redshirt freshman Travis Himmelman, who won three Colorado state championships for Conifer High in Evergreen, Colo., placed at the Walsh-Ironman and captured prep All-American honors in Fargo.

6. South Dakota State — Chris Bono, the former NCAA champion from Iowa State who later turned around a struggling program at Chattanooga, begins his first year at SDSU, which is in its fifth year as an NCAA Division I program. The Jackrabbits have featured just two previous Div. I NCAA participants: Ryan Meyer (2007) and Tyler Sorenson (2009). But with former NCAA Division II national champion Chad Lamer also returning to his alma mater as an assistant coach, SDSU hopes to change that in 2013.

Among the returning wrestlers, 125-pound senior Aaron Pickrel was 23-11 last year. Among the newcomers to keep an eye on are lightweight David Klingsheim, a transfer from Nebraska, where he won a Big 12 championship in 2011, and heavyweight Jacob Haydel, a three-time Louisiana state champion who also earned Junior National and NHSCA All-America honors.