Watch Wyoming’s Mark Branch Preview the NCAA Championships
A lineup that features previous qualifiers, transfers, and first-timers comprises the Wyoming Cowboys wrestling team that head to the NCAA Championships this weekend.
First round action gets underway at 10 a.m., Mountain Time, Thursday, March 21, and continues through Saturday, March 23 with the championship finals at 5 p.m., MT. This year’s NCAA Wrestling Championships are at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA.
There are seven Cowboy wrestlers that are in this year’s field. That contingent ties for the most in the 11-year tenure of head coach Mark Branch, who also took seven in 2013.
There’s a three-time qualifier in senior Branson Ashworth. He will wrestle at 165 pounds Also headed back to the NCAA’s is sophomore Montorie Bridges, who was an All-American at 133-pounds a year ago with an eighth-place finish. Fellow sophomore Sam Turner makes his second appearance, as well, but this time at 141 pounds after being at 149 a season ago.
The newcomers are led by junior college transfers in junior Cole Verner (125 pounds) and sophomore Brian Andrews (heavyweight). Both placed at the NJCAA nationals last year. The first-time qualifiers are redshirt freshman Hayden Hastings (174) and true freshman Tate Samuelson (184). Hastings is one of 34 redshirt freshman in the field, while Samuelson is one of only 21 true freshmen to qualify for Pittsburgh. The Pokes are one of only 16 teams to have multiple freshmen making an appearance this weekend.
Wyoming head coach Mark Branch feels his group is as prepared as they can be for this weekend. In the video above he speaks about being ready for this atmosphere, wrestling likes it’s just another match, sticking to the plan, and some of UW’s individuals and their opportunities.
Ashworth is the highest seeded Cowboy wrestler as No. 10 at 165. By his standards, the senior is coming off a disappointing fourth-place performance at the Big 12 Championships March 9 and 10. Ashworth feels he can deliver a better effort, talks about his weight class, his keys, and more.
As a group, these seven Wyoming wrestlers have combined for 190 wins this season. That’s tied for the fifth-most among schools at the NCAA Championships this weekend. UW is tied with Missouri, but behind Oklahoma State (216), Iowa State (215), Penn State (209), and Ohio State (207). Ashworth and Andrews led the Pokes with 32 wins apiece this season. Ashworth has 17 bonus-point wins this season to lead Wyoming.
The Cowboys tied for 17th place last year with two All-Americans. It was their best finish under Branch at the NCAA Championships.
ESPN and ESPNU will televise matches live, while ESPN3 provides a combination of special programming from Pittsburgh.