LARAMIE -- The University of Wyoming wrestling team opens its season this weekend. The Cowboys host Western Wyoming Community College on Sunday at 1 p.m. inside the UniWyo Sports Complex.

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The Mustangs are a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association. It may not be the same “level” as the NCAA, but Western Wyoming is the reigning national champions and preseason No. 1 team in the country.

It’s a good first test for the Cowboys. And head coach Mark Branch is excited to commence the regular season.

“It’s always a great shift when competition starts,” Branch said. “We have been in the practice room for weeks working on various things in preparation, but the moment you step out to compete, you have the opportunity to learn so much. We will know very quickly the precise things we need to focus on. Up until competition, it’s more of a guess.”

Wyoming is coming off a disappointing 2022-23 campaign. The Pokes finished 1-10 in duals and 10th at the Big 12 Championships.

Jore Volk was one of the bright spots. He advanced to the NCAA Tournament as a freshman and is ranked as high as No. 16 in the 125-pound weight class coming into this season.

Gabe Willochell represents the other Cowboy that broke into the preseason rankings. The Edinboro transfer checked in as high as No. 28 at 141.

Those two aforementioned wrestlers are a microcosm of the team. Plenty of familiar faces return with a number of new ones that have come in from high school and the transfer portal.

The projected starting lineup for Sunday features four returning starters, three transfers and three returners that will look to keep that starting spot.

Volk headlines the returnees. He’s joined in the starting lineup by Brett McIntosh (165), Tyce Raddon (197) and Quayin Short (174).

Willochell spearheads the trio of transfers. Fellow Edinboro transfer, Ethan Ducca (184), and Cooper Birdwell (133) from Oklahoma State are also slated to start Sunday.

Aidan Noonan (141), Cooper Voorhees (157) and Kevin Zimmer (HWT) round out the projected starters against the Mustangs.

Following Sunday, Wyoming hits the road for a pair of duals, including its Big 12 opener. The Cowboys battle at CSU Bakersfield on Friday at 8 p.m. before traveling to conference foe, Cal Baptist, on Nov. 11 at 8 p.m.

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