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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    The Class of 2022 is Shaping Up to be Wyoming's Best of the Mark Branch Era

    Mark Branch giving instructions to Stephen Buchanan at the 2021 NCAA Championships (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    Since Mark Branch was hired by the University of Wyoming in July of 2008, the program has been one that has developed its share of unheralded recruits. A total of seven wrestlers have combined to earn All-American honors 14 times (including Montorie Bridges NWCA mention in 2020). Only one of these All-Americans was ranked in the top-50 nationally, coming out of high school. That was Tyler Cox, who was ranked #33 in the Class of 2009, the first full class under Branch's direction. 2009 was also the only time in Branch's tenure where the school inked multiple top-50 recruits. Since that time, the Cowboy program has only signed eight top-100 recruits.

    This isn't meant to be a knock on the Cowboys recruiting efforts in the past; it's more to demonstrate how well Branch and his staff have done at evaluating and developing talent. Maybe it's the rankers who are overlooking the student-athletes that typically head to Laramie.

    At the beginning of June, recruiting restrictions were lifted for all DI programs. For over a year, coaches were not allowed to host official recruiting visits on campus and could not travel to events to scout potential recruiting targets. Only two weeks into this new recruiting cycle, Wyoming has already put together a Class of 2022 that surpasses any, from a rankings standpoint, of the Branch-era.

    On Tuesday, June 8th, Wyoming got their Class of 2022 class started in a big way. A pair of high school teammates from Tennessee's Baylor School, #65 David Harper and #80 Garrison Dendy, both committed to Branch's team. In and of itself, getting both Harper and Dendy, marked the first time since 2009 that Wyoming had a pair of top-100 recruits (Patrick Martinez was the other). Then on Friday evening, another shoe dropped. #35 Jore Volk had committed to Wyoming, as well. Volk is the highest-ranked high schooler to commit to Wyoming since #32 Zach Beard in 2013. All three are currently ranked in the top-eight of their respective high school weights by MatScouts. Volk checks in at fifth at 126 lbs, while Harper is seventh at 195, and Dendy is eighth at 145.

    What's also remarkable about this group is that they hail from states outside of Wyoming's normal recruiting reach. It's been almost 20 years since the Cowboys had a national qualifier from Minnesota (Brad Steele - 285 lbs/2003), while Tennessee to Wyoming is not a typical route for many high schoolers. Both could prove fruitful, as Minnesota consistently churns out quality collegiate wrestlers and Tennessee has been improving on the high school level lately.

    Volk is the most decorated of the bunch, as he was a double 16U champion in Fargo during the summer of 2019. In the preseason, he finished fourth at the Super 32, competing at 113 lbs. Earlier this year, Volk became the first wrestler in Lakeville North history to capture two state titles. Dendy also found the podium at the Super 32 in 2020, taking sixth at the 145 lb weight class. Harper is a two-time 16U freestyle All-American in Fargo (4th, 7th). Volk projects at either 125 or 133 for the Cowboys. Dendy should fit in at 149 and Harper at 197.

    Cowboy fans should be salivating over the prospect of the future for Wyoming wrestling. A coach and a program that has thrived off of getting strong results from lesser-known recruits will soon have some thoroughbreds to work with. Of the seven wrestlers to earn All-American honors under Branch's watch, four (Joe LeBlanc, Shane Onufer, Alfonso Hernandez, and Stephen Buchanan), were ranked outside the top-100 heading into Laramie. Cox was ranked #33 in 2009 and Bridges was #93 in 2016. Two-time national finalist Bryce Meredith was ranked #92 in the Class of 2014, though he initially signed with NC State and attended school there for a year.

    Looking at the 2021 Wyoming team, three of their four Big 12 finalists were not mentioned on a Big Board before starting their collegiate careers. Cole Moody was #97 in the Class of 2018, but Buchanan, Tate Samuelson and Brian Andrews snuck under the radar. Two other recent, notable Cowboys that were missed in recruiting rankings were Archie Colgan and Branson Ashworth. Both grew into wrestlers that were seeded in the top-ten at the national tournament as seniors.

    What's even more intriguing about the Class of 2022 is that good recruits tend to attach other good recruits. With three top-100 seniors already in the fold, in mid-June, expect to see more high-quality wrestlers give Wyoming attention. Don't be surprised if they nab one or two. MatScouts recent article regarding “School Lists” from many of the top uncommitted seniors proves that point. When published, ten wrestlers had Wyoming on their “short list.” That number was only exceeded by recruiting juggernaut NC State, with 11. Even excluding the three that recently committed to Wyoming, that leaves seven others as having a strong interest in the Wyoming program.

    We must mention that the official signing period for wrestlers in the Class of 2022 is not until November, so these recruits are not locked in to Wyoming just yet.

    Below is a listing of all of the Big Board'er's signed by Wyoming during the Mark Branch era. Class information from 2013-21 is courtesy of Willie Saylor at MatScouts. The 2010-12 rankings are via Earl Smith's old D1CollegeWrestling.net website, while the Class of 2009 is from InterMat. No data was used from the Class of 2008, considering Branch was hired in July and the bulk of that class was likely locked in before his arrival.


    2021 (Out of Top 300)

    #85 Quayin Short (Simley, MN)

    #156 Aidan Noonan (Cascade, IA)


    2020 (Out of Top 300)

    #205 Guillermo Escobedo (Bishop Amat, CA)

    #214 Gage Hockett (Cushing, OK)


    2019 (Out of Top 100)

    #90 Jake Svihel (Totino-Grace, MN)


    2018 (Out of Top 100)

    #97 Cole Moody (Bingham, UT)


    2017 (Out of Top 100)

    None


    2016 (Out of Top 100)

    #93 Montorie Bridges (Altus, OK)


    2015 (Out of Top 100)

    None


    2014 (Out of Top 100)

    None


    2013 (Out of Top 100)

    #32 Zach Beard (Tuttle, OK)


    2012 (Out of Top 150)

    #44 Ben Stroh (Chinook, MT)

    #108 Drew Templeman (Orting, WA)

    #140 Jake Elliott (Oakmont, CA)


    2011 (Out of Top 150)

    None


    2010 (Out of Top 150)

    #119 Zach Zehner (Tomahawk, WI)

    #145 Shane Woods (Tuttle, OK)


    2009 (Out of Top 100)

    #33 Tyler Cox (Gillette, WY)

    #48 Patrick Martinez (Temecula, CA)

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