LARAMIE – Since October, the University of Wyoming wrestling team has done countless drills and workouts.

As in any sport, repetition and attention to detail are important, but also can get monotonous. UW coach Mark Branch and his staff try to mix things up and give the Cowboys opportunities have a little fun while still getting their work in.

Whether it’s running the mountain trails at Vedauwoo between Laramie and Cheyenne, running up the old ski hills at the Happy Jack Recreation Area – and sledding down them – or swimming in Corbett Pool on campus, the Cowboys get their training in – aside from what is done in the wrestling room.

“There are ways to get something from a training standpoint, but also from a team bonding standpoint,” said Branch, who is in his 11th season at UW. “If you have an opportunity to get out of that wrestling room and still maintain your training, then I think you have to look for those opportunities.

“Not only to maintain your training, but we get something out of these opportunities. We’ve got things from swimming or running up and down a sledding hill that you won’t get on a Stairmaster or anywhere else. Some guys love it, some guys hate it, but it is going to be a different workout for everybody.”

This wasn’t the first year Branch and staff have been creative with their training. They’ve done it every season Branch has been at UW. However, it wasn’t something Branch did as student-athlete at Oklahoma State, where he was a four-time NCAA finalist, a two-time national champion and the associate head coach from 2001-08.

“We try to surprise the guys with what we do, and if I forget, there starts to be some rumbling among them,” Branch said. “I would say we’ve done more of these type of workouts and outings this season than over the last couple of years.”

Back in January, before the spring semester started, Branch took his wrestlers to Corbett Pool. They did drill work – individually and against each other – in the water. They competed in swimming races, tried to tread water for as long as possible, and, for some fun at the end, displayed their skills off the diving board.

“It’s fun, and it takes a lot of the stress out of everything,” sophomore 133-pounder Montorie Bridges said. “It is a mental break, not having to be in the room all day. We get some laughs in, and that is always good.”

But don’t mistake the fun and laughs for screwing around in the water.

“Everything is a competition,” Branch said. “No one wants to have their head under the water, so there’s a little more fight there with the guys. We’re getting a strength workout you don’t get anywhere else.

“When guys are trying to keep their head above the water and can’t use their hands, it’s a hard workout. Guys are stressing physically, and some are emotionally stressed, too.”

Bridges, who is from Altus, Oklahoma, said when the team worked out at Happy Jack, it was the first time he has been sledding in his life. Bridges also said he is not a big fan of the water after the swimming workout.

Sophomore heavyweight Brian Andrews of Grapevine, Texas, has been a lifeguard at times, so being in and around water was natural for him. And he described sledding as “a blast.”

However, some of the other different training outings UW has done weren’t as enjoyable.

“We do buddy carries, where we carry guys on our back in the (football) stadium and in the mountains at Vedauwoo, and that sucked, to be honest,” Andrews said with a smirk.

No. 12-ranked UW starts the Big 12 Conference Championships today, and nine of the 10 wrestlers in the lineup earned top-eight pre-seeds.

UW had an extra week to prepare, compared to most schools, since its dual season ended Feb. 17. There weren’t any buddy carries, sledding or swimming during that time, but Branch said there was some “unique circuit training” that helped his athletes maintain their conditioning and get some healthy.

After a 16-4 dual season – the most dual wins since 1966-67 – along with the many training and practice sessions, the Cowboys seem ready to compete against some of the nation’s elite individuals and programs.

“The guys have had an extremely positive attitude, and I can’t think of a group that’s been as positive,” Branch said. “Preparing for something like the Big 12 Championships and the (NCAA Championships March 21-23 in Pittsburgh) isn’t easy.

“Guys can get down pretty fast, but these last three weeks have been really good for us.”

Robert Gagliardi is the WyoSports senior editor. He can be reached at rgagliardi@wyosports.net or 307-755-3325. Follow him on Twitter at @rpgagliardi.

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