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Western Wrestling Conference gears Up for seventh season of competition in 2012-13

OREM, Utah – Coming off of one of its best seasons of competition, the Western Wrestling Conference, an NCAA Division I wrestling-only alliance, will begin its seventh year of competition in 2012-13.

Current members of the Western Wrestling Conference include: the United States Air Force Academy, North Dakota State University, the University of Northern Colorado, South Dakota State University, Utah Valley University and the University of Wyoming.

The WWC had another solid year in 2011-12, with two league wrestlers earning All-America honors and Wyoming placing 19th at the NCAA Championships. The conference has now had 11 All-Americans in its first sixyears of existence. In 2012, Wyoming’s Alfonso Hernandez (197) and Joe LeBlanc (184) placed sixth and seventh respectively at the NCAA Championships. For Hernandez it was his first All-America award but for LeBlanc it was his fourth, as he became the league’s first four-time All-American.

Along with his seventh-place showing in 2012, LeBlanc finished fourth at the NCAA Tournament in 2010, fifth in 2009, and sixth in 2011. The University of Northern Iowa’s Moza Fay was a two-time placer during his tenure by finishing sixth at 165 pounds in 2009 and fifth at that same weight in 2008. Northern Colorado’s Justin Gaethje (157) finished seventh in 2010 and UNI’s Jarion Beets (174) placed eighth that same year. In 2011, Utah Valley’s Ben Kjar became the Wolverines’ first-ever wrestling All-American by placing fourth (125) and Wyoming’s Shane Onufer finished fifth (165).

In all, 18 wrestlers from the WWC qualified for the 2012 NCAA Division I Wrestling National Championships, 17 via automatic slots and one at-large selection. The WWC had seven competitors who were seeded in the top-12 of their brackets. At 133 pounds, UNI’s Joe Colon was the fifth-seed, while Air Force’s Cole VonOhlen earned the No. 3 seed at 149 pounds. NDSU’s Steven Monk was the No. 12 seed at 157 pounds, Wyoming’s Onufer was the No. 2 seed at 165 pounds, UW’s LeBlanc was the No. 1 seed at 184, UNI’s Ryan Loder was the No. 8 seed at 184 and UW’s Hernandez was the No. 9 seed at 197.

The 2012 NCAA West Regional served as the conference tournament for the sixth straight season. The tournament was held at UNI’s McLeod Center in Cedar Falls, Iowa. In the team race, Wyoming won its third consecutive tournament title as it finished with 93.5 points, 17.5 ahead of UNI who came in second. The Cowboys also won the league’s regular season dual title with an unblemished 6-0 record. In years past UNI won the regular season in 2011, Wyoming won it in 2010, UW and UNItied for the title in 2009, and the Panthers were tops in the league after both the 2008 and 2007 seasons.

The league’s three major postseason awards in 2012 were given to three individuals from the University of Wyoming. Wyoming’s Hernandez was named Wrestler of the Year, the Cowboys’ Zach Zehner was tabbed as Freshman of the Year and UW’s Mark Branch was chosen as Coach of the Year. The honor for Branch was his third coach of the year award in the past four seasons after he led his Cowboys to a top-20 finish at the NCAA Championships in 2012 and a No. 11 ranking in the final NWCA/USA Today Division I Team Coaches Poll.

In the near future, the goal of the league is to replace the West Regional with the conference tournament, which would then serve as the NCAA qualifier.

The 2013 NCAA West Regional/WWC Championships will be held on Saturday, March 9 at the Arena Auditorium on the campus of the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyo.

The WWC recognizes student-athletes on both a weekly and full-season basis. Individual awards include Wrestler of the Week; All-Conference teams; an Academic All-Conference team; and Wrestler, Newcomer and Coach of the Year awards. The league also crowns a team champion following the conclusion of the regular season conference competition and the postseason tournament.

The governance of the Western Wrestling Conference remains primarily with the member institutions. Scheduling of contests, assignment of officials and certain media relations functions remain with member institutions.

A major benefit of having a league that is geographically spread out over five states and two time zones is the added exposure - both in terms of media and recruiting - in new destinations. The conference affiliation also generates much interest within the six schools’ substantial alumni base, which numbers nearly 800,000 combined.

North Dakota State, Northern Colorado and South Dakota State have all made the move from Division II to Division I since joining the WWC. UVU moved directly from Junior College (NJCAA) Athletics to NCAA Division I and completed its reclassification prior to the 2009-10 season.

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