OREM, Utah -- The new calendar year began on a high note for the University of Wyoming wrestling team, as the Cowboys used six match victories Friday to defeat conference foe Utah Valley on the road, 20-12.
Wyoming (3-2 overall) opened Western Wrestling Conference action 1-0 for the fifth-straight season, and the Cowboys improved to 8-1 all-time against the Wolverines in series history. UW head coach Mark Branch won his 23rd conference dual in five seasons.
"It was a good win – conference wins are always good," Branch said. "We've been off the mat for two weeks (in competition), and I don't think we looked as good as we could have. Being on the road, we knew this dual would be competitive. There's nothing that's a given and I was proud of the guys who stepped up and wrestled well tonight."
Sophomore Brandon Richardson gave the Cowboys a spark in the first match of the evening. After the 149-pounder gave up a takedown in the first 15 seconds, he went into the second period down 2-0. Utah Valley's Josh Wilson racked up nearly two minutes of riding time, but an early escape in the second from Richardson made it 2-1 Wilson. Richardson then worked for a takedown with less than 30 seconds to go, and Wilson's riding-time point tied things up at 3-all. Richardson then worked for the winning takedown half a minute into overtime to win, 5-3. That gave Wyoming a 3-0 lead.
"Brandon's win was huge. That showed a lot of heart," Branch said.
Sophomore Andy McCulley took an early lead on Ethan Smith of Utah Valley at 157 pounds, thanks to a takedown, an escape and one-plus minute of riding time. Smith earned an escape, but McCulley got the 4-1 victory, his 19th of the season. After that, sophomore Dakota Friesth tied things up at 3-3 with just 29 seconds to go at 165 pounds, but Utah Valley's Curtis Cook used a Friesth takedown attempt against him and added a takedown and back points of his own to win 8-3. That cut the UW margin to 6-3.
Senior L.J. Helbig avenged a loss earlier in the season to UVU's Monte Schmalhaus at 174 pounds. After being down 2-0 to start the match, Helbig used a reversal and an illegal-hold point to take a 3-2 lead. He would add five more points for the 8-3 decision win, which gave Wyoming a 9-3 lead after four matches.
Sophomore Shane Woods used two escapes to overcome an early 2-0 deficit, and scored a takedown with less than 40 seconds remaining to beat Derek Thomas of Utah Valley, 4-3, in the 184-pound bout. Shortly after, fourth-ranked senior Alfonso Hernandez built a 3-0 lead after just 3 minutes, and kept pouring it on, beating UVU's David Prieto at 197 pounds, 13-5. His win gave the Pokes a 16-3 lead.
Sophomore Leland Pfeifer saw his first action of the season, taking on Utah Valley's Adam Fager at heavyweight. Pfeifer, coming off a knee injury, battled but couldn't overcome Fager, losing a 9-4 decision.
Utah Valley took the momentum back when Wolverine Jade Rauser took an early 2-0 lead on sophomore Tyler Cox at 125 pounds. Cox added a reversal, but Rauser got a takedown, an escape and a riding-time point for the final 6-3 margin. The Wolverines clawed to within five, 16-9, with two matches to go.
But sophomore Zach Zehner slammed the door on any comeback attempt by UVU when made his first appearance of the season for the Pokes, stepping in at 133 pounds. He looked sharp early, taking a 4-1 lead in the first period over Chasen Tolbert. He poured it on over the next four minutes, winning a 14-3 major decision to seal the dual win for UW. Sophomore Kyle Komata capped off the evening for UW, losing a 6-2 decision to Avery Garner.
On Sunday, the Cowboys will battle San Francisco State, CSU Bakersfield and Cal Poly in the Mustang Duals in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Action begins at 12:30 p.m. MT.
"Our duals against (the California schools) will be competitive," Branch said. "We're on their turf and we have got to be focused and wrestle well."
149: Brandon Richardson (UW) dec. Josh Wilson (UVU), 5-3 SV1 / Wyoming 3, Utah Valley 0
157: Andy McCulley (UW) dec. Ethan Smith (UVU), 4-1 / Wyoming 6, Utah Valley 0
165: Curtis Cook (UVU) dec. Dakota Friesth (UW), 8-3 / Wyoming 6, Utah Valley 3
174: L.J. Helbig (UW) dec. Monte Schmalhaus (UVU), 8-3 / Wyoming 9, Utah Valley 3
184: Shane Woods (UW) dec. Derek Thomas (UVU), 4-3 / Wyoming 12, Utah Valley 3
197: Alfonso Hernandez (UW) maj. dec. David Prieto (UVU), 13-5 / Wyoming 16, Utah Valley 3
285: Adam Fager (UVU) dec. Leland Pfeifer (UW), 9-4 / Wyoming 16, Utah Valley 6
125: Jade Rauser (UVU) dec. Tyler Cox (UW), 6-3 / Wyoming 16, Utah Valley 9
133: Zach Zehner (UW) maj. dec. Chasen Tolbert (UVU), 14-3 / Wyoming 20, Utah Valley 9
141: Avery Garner (UVU) dec. Kyle Komata (UW), 6-2 / Wyoming 20, Utah Valley 12