* University of Wyoming press release

LARAMIE -- The University of Wyoming wrestling team has enjoyed a great deal of improvement throughout the 2023-24 season. While there have been blips of disappointment and adversity, as is the case with such a youthful roster, head coach Mark Branch has stood pleased with the progress of his squad.

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The Big 12 Tournament will test the inexperienced bunch of Cowboys. The event takes place Saturday and Sunday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, inside the BOK Center.

“The Big 12 Tournament is all about getting guys qualified for NCAAs,” Branch said. “From a seeding/ranking perspective, we have a lot of work to do. But there’s no reason our guys shouldn’t be confident in their ability to beat anyone.”

As Branch alluded to, there’s work to be done. That’s due to the fact that the Big 12 only received 57 automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament – six bids to 125, 133, 149, 157, 165, 174 and 197 and five bids to 141, 184 and HWT.

The allocations aren’t helping matters, and the Big 12 seedings didn’t do the Cowboys any favors either. While Wyoming boasted eight seeded wrestlers, five of those garnered a No. 8 seed meaning they’ll likely, if chalk prevails, face a No. 1 seed in the second round.

No. 13 Jore Volk (125) leads the way for the Pokes. He’s seeded fifth, owning a 5-3 record against the Big 12 bracket. The regular season saw him go 19-6, 7-6 against ranked foes, and ascend as high as No. 4 in the polls.

Volk – who finished fifth at last year’s conference tournament – hasn’t competed since Wyoming’s dual against North Dakota State on Feb. 4. That hiatus is something Branch believes will benefit not just Volk but his entire roster.

“I think our break from competition has been a blessing,” Branch said. “It has helped our team mend their bodies, and our peak training has been excellent. I’m not worried about being rusty. I just want our guys to walk out there knowing they can beat anyone. That’s the key.”

No. 21 Joey Novak (197) reeled in a No. 6 seed in what will be his first Big 12 Tournament. He’s 5-4 against the bracket following an 18-10 season, which included a 6-9 mark against ranked competition.

No. 26 Gabe Willochell (149) was awarded the No. 7 seed. He’s 4-4 against the bracket and boasts a 16-8 overall record this season with one ranked victory.

Garrett Ricks (133), No. 30 Cole Brooks (141), Cooper Voorhees (165), Ethan Ducca (184) and Kevin Zimmer (HWT) all earned a No. 8 seed in their respective brackets. Ricks is the only one of the five that placed at last year’s tournament, taking eighth. Sloan Swan (157) and Quayin Short (174) round out the competing Pokes, as both go to Tulsa unseeded.

Wyoming finished 10th as a team at last year’s tournament with Jacob Wright standing as the highest-placing Cowboy at third. Missouri won the team title, while Oklahoma State and Iowa State rounded out the top three.

The NCAA Championships follow the Big 12 Tournament. They take place in Kansas City, Missouri, from March 21-23 inside the T-Mobile Center.

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