Wyoming senior wrestler Bryce Meredith said earlier this season that he wants the Cowboys to send a wrestler to the NCAA championships at all 10 weights. For the Pokes to do that, they’re going to need to have a big weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Saturday, the Big 12 Championship gets under way, and the Cowboys are hoping to secure as many automatic bids as possible.
“I feel like there are some guys that are kind of on the fringe of qualifying,” redshirt freshman Sam Turner said, “and I think that if we wrestle the way that we have been all season, we should be able to get 8, 9 guys there.”
If Wyoming does that, it might have a shot at the team championship. But the Cowboys’ focus is on strong individual performances.
“I’m not heading into this tournament thinking about team scores,” Wyoming head coach Mark Branch said. “I’m thinking about my individual guys getting to the NCAA tournament, and that’s what the most important thing is. And if we get a bunch of guys there, more than likely our team scores will be pretty good. I’m not looking at that this week. I’m focused on each of these 10 guys.
“And I’ve become a believer. I know that each guy has an opportunity. There’s not a guy walking in there that, ‘Well, it’d take a miracle. It’s unrealistic.’ It’s not unrealistic. It may be a stretch and it may be a long shot, but it’s not unrealistic. It’s realistic. They can each go and qualify for the NCAA tournament.”
Seven automatic bids are up for grabs at 125 pounds, five at 133, three at 141, five at 149, three at 157, six at 165, five at 174, four at 184, four at 197 and three at 285.
“I thought my weight would get five, six,” said 125-pounder Drake Foster. “So to get seven, that’s even better. But even if it was five or six, I still thought I could get top six, so my goal is to get top six, get a medal, get on the podium. Because I was there two years ago, went 0-2, so that kind of left a sour taste in my mouth. I’m definitely ready to go.”
Foster is seeded eighth at his weight. Bryce Meredith (141 pounds) and Branson Ashworth (165) each bring No. 1 seeds into the tournament. Archie Colgan (157) and Montorie Bridges (133) are each seeded second, while Sam Turner (149) and Chaz Polson (184) are seeded fifth, Kyle Pope (174) is seeded sixth, and Sam Eagan (heavyweight) is seeded eighth.
“I know that if I wrestle to my capability that I should have no problem making it to the NCAAs,” Turner said.
The Cowboys have reason to be confident. They went 13-3 in duals this year, 7-2 in Big 12 action.
“We know that we’re a head above a lot of the competition,” Turner said. “We know that we can scrap with any of these guys. We haven’t been blown out against any of the Big 12 teams. We’ve held our own against all of them. So I think that we all have a lot of confidence against this field of competition.”
And they Cowboys weren’t just squeaking out wins, either. Many of their dual victories down the stretch came in blowout fashion.
“Even last year, we didn’t have a positive (dual) record,” Foster said. “So the whole year’s just been positive, and I feel like we’ve been feeding off of each other. So if someone gets a pin, the next guy out there is going to get a pin. So I think we just have to keep it rolling into this next tournament as well.”
In fact, the feeling has been so positive that Branch has had to make sure he avoids getting his expectations too high.
“I’m still guarded, but I definitely believe in my team,” Branch said. “... Half my team has their only shot to go to the NCAA tournament is to go in there and steal a spot, go in there and take somebody’s spot. But I know we have guys that are capable of doing it, and that’s a large task. That’s a tough thing to do. But they’re capable of doing it.
“And I don’t know that I would have felt that way at midseason. But now I do. I’ve seen them. I’ve seen Sam Eagan upset some really good guys. I’ve seen Luke Paine go in and upset some really good guys. I’ve seen Kyle Pope and Chaz Polson, those guys have done it. I’ve seen Drake be behind and put guys on their back and pin them. So I definitely have a different mindset from that standpoint, and that’s what my mind is focused on.”