UCO team eyes National Tournament
After a disappointing last year, the University of Central Oklahoma wrestling team is back on track this season, a top-three finish in the national tournament within its grasp.
Head coach David James, in his 24th year with the Broncos, has set the revamped and rejuvenated team back on the winning track after last year’s 11th-place finish in the NCAA Division II National Tournament. James, a four-time All-American during his own collegiate career at UCO, said his team is strong from top to bottom.
“In … all 10 weight classes, we have guys with winning records this year,” James said. “That, in itself, says a lot about this team. We’ve got youth and energy, but we’ve also got experience and maturity. This is the kind of team that could very well end up in one of the top spots in the nation when the post-season comes to an end.”
With a lineup that includes two starters from the Edmond area, UCO jumped to No. 3 in the nation following an impressive showing at a Colorado competition in January. They’ve got their eyes on the regional tournament at the end of this month, followed by the NCAA Division II National Tournament – a place where the team has become a fixture.
“Having a nice regular season is great,” James said. “It’s nice to see our guys going out there, competing hard and growing with each and every match. But what counts – the only thing that matters in the end – is how things turn out in post-season. Whether it’s high school or college, the post-season is what you work toward all year.”
Shane Caruthers and Kyle Evans, both from Edmond, have helped push the Broncos into the No. 3 ranking at the 125-pound and 141-pound spots, respectively. Earl Jones, 133 pounds; Josh Leadingfox, 285 pounds; Shea Timothy, 149 pounds; and Cort Peterson, 165 pounds, are other starters who have helped push the Broncos through the regular season in impressive fashion.
“We’ve got some guys who made good showings at the national tournament last year, and have helped guide and lead this team with experience,” James said. “Shea (Timothy), Kyle (Evans) and Cort (Peterson) all had good seasons last year – but we’re hoping and expecting them to crack into the top two or three at nationals this year.
“That’s what you want, is for your guys to move up the ladder each and every year,” James said. “We’ve also got some new freshmen and sophomores, like Shane Caruthers and Kyle Evans, who are helping to bring not only talent to the team, but that new energy and determination you see in young men trying to prove themselves.”
UCO made a big jump in the rankings, as well as in confidence level, in late January with a terrific finish at a meet in Iowa. The team finished third, losing to two-time defending national champion Nebraska-Omaha in the semifinals. Omaha went on to win the tournament, solidifying its hold (for now) on the top spot in the nation. But James said his team is chomping at the bit to have another shot at the champs.
“They’re a good team. No doubt about it,” James said. “To be two-time champion and to have done as well as they have this year … . But that’s what you want. You want a chance to go up against the team everyone says is the best, to see if you’ve got what it takes. I think this team is mentally and physically the kind of team that, when the national tournament comes around, is going to give Omaha all they want.”
February is a “big, big month” for the team, James said. After hosting Nebraska-Omaha on Feb. 2, the team turns around to host Nebraska-Kearney the next night, and then closes out the home season with a Feb. 18 match at home against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. In between, on Feb. 10, the team travels to Fort Hays State (Kansas) for the final road match of the year.
“It’s been a good year, especially after we didn’t do nearly as well last year as we wanted to or expected to,” James said. “And, when the pre-season rankings came out and had us sixth, it was nice for us to see that people expected us to do pretty well.
“But we don’t want to do ‘pretty well,’” he said. “Rankings are just opinions, and we don’t put out all our effort – we don’t work our butts off — just for people’s opinions. We have one goal in mind, and that’s going to the national tournament and making sure that the championship trophy comes back to Edmond, Oklahoma, where it belongs.”