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Mark Branch Guides Wyoming Wrestling to postseason success

Kaw tribal member Mark Branch guided his University of Wyoming wrestling team to a fourth straight Western Wrestling Conference title, despite injuries to a few players and losing four of six dual meets in January and February.

“I think we finished really well,” Branch said. “We did really well at regionals. A lot of those guys had to pull off upsets and they did that.”

The Cowboys fought back from fourth place to first on the last day of the Western Regionals to win the title.

“It speaks to the elevation of the program. We hadn’t won the conference in 20 years before 2009, and then won four straight years. To do it in that fashion shows the level of the program,” Branch said.

Seven Wyoming wrestlers qualified for the national championships and two placed at nationals to earn All-American honors. Senior Alfonso Hernandez reached the quarterfinals before losing twice and pulling out a win for seventh place in the 197-pound weight class.

Hernandez, who had back surgery two years ago, felt it seize up on him in January.

“We worked to keep him healthy, keeping him out of practice,” Branch said. “It got the best of him. He went down in an uncomfortable position. Then, he came back with a win in the seventh-place match. I’m glad he was able to finish out his career with a win.”

Sophomore Tyler Cox placed eighth in the 125-pound weight class.

“Having Tyler Cox as an All-American at 125 pounds—that was huge,” Branch said.

Branch said that his young team grew more mature throughout the season.

“We overcame losses on the team level and individual level. We beat guys at nationals who beat us in the regular season. They prioritize wrestling. They go to school, they wrestle and that’s it. We have great chemistry in the wrestling room,” Branch said.

Branch expressed great optimism looking towards the 2013-14 season, having had four sophomores wrestling in the national meet.

“They’re getting that experience and they have two more years. These things are very positive. It reaffirms that we’re doing the right things in training. This was a building year. We had guys redshirt. We had guys wrestle out of their weight class. We’ll have guys coming back healthy and in their weight class. We’ll have an exciting team on the mat.”

Branch said that he hopes to continue building the Wyoming program and take it to the next level.

“I have a lot of support right here. I enjoy the clean living. I enjoy living in the town of Laramie. The athletic department is behind us. I’m focused on building the program,” he said.

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