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Season Review: Wrestling’s Future is Bright After Strong Season

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Bud Denega, Communications Coordinator for Soccer, Wrestling and Swim&Dive, University of Wyoming

LARAMIE, Wyo. (3/27/24) – The wrestling NCAA Championships this past weekend in Kansas City were a microsome of the season that was for the University of Wyoming. The Pokes surprised under the brightest of lights and exemplified their “Live Cowboy Tough” slogan.   

No. 5 Jore Volk (125) may have suffered disappointment being upset in the first round, but he rallied for four straight victories to earn his first-career All-American award. He also won his final match of the season, taking the seventh-place match.

Volk stood as one of five wrestlers, out of a possible 160, at the tournament who lost their opening-round match and advanced in the consolation bracket to All-American status.

“I think it was clear our team wrestled it’s best at the end of the season,” head coach Mark Branch said. “Jore wanted to win a title, but as we have seen all year that weight class was bonkers and there were so many guys that could have won. Four former All-Americans didn’t place, so what Jore did was very impressive.”

No. 17 Joey Novak (197) logged two upsets in Kansas City en route to a 2-2 week. Novak’s defeats occurred against the eventual national champion and another guy who garnered All-American recognition.

No. 22 Gabe Willochell (149) boasted a pair of upsets, as well, both of his though were grapplers seeded at least 10 spots higher. Willochell was also only one takedown away from advancing to the Blood Round.

“Gabe and Joey both wrestled outstanding tournaments and scored upsets that will reinforce to them that they can compete with anyone,” Branch said. “All three guys (Volk, Novak and Willochell) will start next season ranked in the top 10, and that gives us a great foundation to build on.”

Another piece of that foundation is the youthfulness that, while it didn’t advance to the NCAA Championships, impressed in their first season of college wrestling. Cole Brooks (141) cracked into the bottom portion of the rankings for the second half of the season. Sloan Swan (157) solidified his spot in the middle of the lineup and Riley Davis (174) – who was having an impressive freshman campaign until a season-ending shoulder injury midway through – give the Pokes quality depth going forward.

“Guys like Cole, Riley and Sloan have us feeling not only optimistic but greedy,” Branch said. “We want to build on this year’s success and make a massive jump next year, and we have the guys that can get us there.”

The remainder of the lineup is an eclectic mix of student-athletes that have been around the program for years, transfers and JUCO transfers. Those Cowboys include Garrett Ricks and Cooper Birdwell who split time at 133, Cooper Voorhees (165), Quayin Short (174) – who took over for Davis after the injury – Ethan Ducca (184) and Kevin Zimmer (HWT).

It’s a collection of different personalities, abilities and strengths, which made coaching them a treat. And it’s one that energized Branch – who was in his 16th year at the helm – and his staff. 

“This is one of the most enjoyable years of coaching that I have had,” Branch said. “We wrestled 14 different lineups in 14 duals. That’s not really what you want but every week it was something new. I believe in this team and in these guys. They have to believe in us and this program. If that happens, nothing is impossible.”

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