Most colleges hang their theoretical hats on specific sports. Kentucky and Kansas view themselves as basketball schools that approach football as a means to pass the time until mid-November. Alabama and LSU live for college football Saturdays while dropping by the basketball arena occasionally to escape the mild southern winters.
Wyoming isn’t a football school, even though it’ll have a top-five pick in this upcoming NFL Draft. Wyoming isn’t a basketball school, even though it claims the man who invented the jump shot.
Wyoming is a wrestling school, plain and simple, and the Pokes have acquitted themselves nicely so far this season in an ultra-competitive Big 12 Conference. Wrestling represents the only sport at UW that competes in a “power conference,” as most of the athletic programs call the Mountain West Conference home.
The Big 12 currently boasts four ranked teams — third most of any conference in the nation. Three of the Big 12 members reside in the top 12 in the country — Wyoming checking in at No. 12 — and the Big 10 is the only conference that has more teams within the top 12. It should also be noted that the Big 10 pulls from a larger pool of teams (14) compared to just 10 in the Big 12.
Wyoming has been a solid wrestling program for years since head coach Mark Branch took over 10 years ago. But the 2017-18 season is shaping up to be quite special. The Pokes recently vaulted up to No. 12 in the team rankings, according to Intermat.com, after a 4-0 week at the UNC duals in North Carolina — the Pokes went 0-3 at the same tournament last season.
Even the casual UW fan knows about or has heard the name Bryce Meredith. The senior Cheyenne native — currently ranked No. 1 the country within the 141-pound weight class — came one point shy of a National Championship as a sophomore before placing
fourth nationally last season. Meredith, now 100 percent healthy, looks not only like the national title contender that he’s been for years, but a favorite to bring home UW wrestling’s first National Championship since Dick Ballinger did so in 1960.
Meredith isn’t a lone wolf this year, however. Three other Wyoming wrestlers fall within Intermat.com’s top 20. Montorie Bridges holds the ninth-best ranking in the 133-pound weight class. Bridges scored a couple upsets at the UNC duals to vault into the top 10 and is the future of UW wrestling as he’s only a redshirt freshman.
Archie Colgan logged his 100th career victory at the UNC duals and currently checks in at No. 10 in the 157-pound weight class. Brandon Ashworth rounds out the Pokes’ ranked grapplers at No. 14 within the 165-pound weight class.
Wyoming has high-end depth that it hasn’t had in years, and it gives the Pokes a fighter’s chance to win the conference. UW has only been affiliated with the Big 12 for three seasons, and in both previous years the Pokes finished the conference season at 4-4. Wyoming currently holds a 1-1 conference record with a comfortable win at Iowa State and a narrow loss to No. 6 Oklahoma State.
Wyoming has an abundance of current headlines and a rich history in sports like football and basketball. But the wrestling team, competing alongside teams like Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Iowa State, resides as the bell cow for University of Wyoming athletics.