LARAMIE – The University of Wyoming’s Arena-Auditorium was a wrestling extravaganza for almost five hours Friday evening when four teams hooked up for six duals on two mats in the Cowboy Shootout.
After the final buzzer sounded, it was the No. 13-ranked Cowboys that ended the day undefeated. Wyoming, North Carolina and Army met at host American two years ago — the same teams were in Laramie for the Cowboys’ turn to host.
The Cowboys first pulled out a come-from-behind 20-15 win against No. 15-ranked North Carolina. UW then won seven of 10 matches in each of the final two duals to beat Army 27-9 and American 25-14 to improve to 9-3 on the season.
Wyoming strung together wins in the final four matches to overtake the Tar Heels (7-4), starting with sophomore Brian Andrews at heavyweight. Andrews — ranked No. 19 — upset No. 13-ranked Cory Gilliland-Daniel with a 4-2 decision in sudden victory. UW redshirt junior Cole Verner — ranked No. 17 at 125 pounds — followed with a 4-2 decision against North Carolina’s Joseph Heilmann.
Redshirt sophomore Montorie Bridges gave the Cowboys a 17-15 lead when the No. 12-ranked wrestler at 133 managed to eke out an 8-7 decision against the Tar Heels’ Gary Wayne Harding — the final point awarded on riding time.
UW sophomore Sam Turner — ranked No. 15 — sealed the dual win with a 3-2 decision on an escape with five seconds left against North Carolina’s No. 12-ranked Austin Headlee.
“I don’t think we deserved to win that first dual, meaning that I think we got outwrestled and (North Carolina) set the pace on us,” Wyoming coach Mark Branch said. “But we had guys who fought hard to get us back in there, but you just don’t feel good about the performance at all.
“We came out in the second dual — I jumped on their rears a little bit too, so maybe that helped — and definitely wrestled much better in the last two duals. It allowed us to throw some extra guys in there. I enjoy that because those guys work hard and don’t always get their chance to go out there and shine.”
Two of those Cowboys who made the most of their time on the mat against Army (2-2) were redshirt freshman Hayden Hastings and freshman Tate Samuelson.
Hastings, at 174, notched a takedown with 55 seconds left in the third and final period to upset Army’s No. 12-ranked Ben Harvey.
“I just tried to go out, get to my attacks and try to get the ball rolling,” Hastings said. “In the first period, I got in on the leg deep, but didn’t finish and made that adjustment in the third period. Overall, it just felt really good to get back into a winning mindset.”
Samuelson, at 184, prepared for the event much like as he always did — in a just in case mode. It paid off when Branch informed him of a long-term change of plans and pulled his redshirt.
“It was a tough decision and I have been thinking about it since Reno (Tournament of Champions on Dec. 20),” Branch said. “He was one of our three 184 pounders and he was one of our best performers out there and wrestled great. You don’t want to have a knee-jerk reaction, but I felt we needed it for this team. There’s other guys I’m not real happy with and I wanted to get him fired up and get him out there.”
In return, Samuelson answered by upsetting the Black Knight’s No. 18-ranked Noah Stewart with a 7-1 decision that included a near fall takedown in the final seconds.
“Before the match I wasn’t sure if I was going to wrestle or not because I didn’t know if coach wanted to pull my redshirt,” Samuelson said. “Just a little bit before my match he told me I would be out there. I knew (Stewart) was a pretty good opponent and was ranked, so I was just trying to get my mind ready for a tough match. It was close all the way to the last couple of second and was a hard-fought match.”
UW mostly cruised through their dual against American (0-3) building a 22-3 lead with three matches left.
One of those was the only match with ranked opponents with Bridges going against the Eagles’ No. 16 Josh Terao. Bridges found himself in another close match before earning the 3-2 decision with a takedown in the first period and an escape in the second period.
In the other duals during the event: Army beat American 21-13; North Carolina beat American 31-3; and North Carolina beat Army 22-18.
David Watson is a writer for WyoSports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-755-3327. Follow him on Twitter at @dwatsonsports.