cowboys corner

In this anything-but-ordinary winter season, the University of Wyoming wrestling team has been doing the ordinary. What’s the ordinary? The Cowboys have been getting after it and competing at a high level, once again this season.

It has become old hat for the Pokes to be located inside the top 25 nationally, and credit must go to 12-year head coach Mark Branch. He has made a consistent winner in Laramie even when All-Americans graduate and the conference competition ratchets up.

It wasn’t just the Bryce-Meredith-and-then-bust show. Wyoming has staying power and acclaim must be sent in the direction of the head man.

And for the first time since the end of Meredith’s distinguished career, UW has a legitimate national championship contender. And much like Meredith, Stephen Buchanan has a little swagger about him.

First, let’s get to the national-championship-contender portion of that statement. Buchanan is ranked inside the top 10 of the latest FloWrestling rankings at No. 6, and, honestly, that’s a tad low.

The 197-pounder is fresh off defeating No. 2 Noah Hess of West Virginia. The only reason Hess isn’t ranked No. 1 is because Buchanan beat Hess the week prior when Hess was ranked as the best wrestler in the nation.

Those pair of matches were nearly carbon-copies of one another. In both, Buchanan utilized a late takedown — with less than 30 seconds to go in the third period — to claim a one-point victory.

Now, let’s get to the swagger part. Last season, after upsetting No. 7 Dakota Greer of Oklahoma State, Buchanan let the crowd and his foe hear about his announcement to the collegiate wrestling world.

This season, Buchanan has made sure that Hess knows how many times he’s beaten him. The sophomore out of Loyal, Wisconsin, flashed a pair of fingers to the crowd after toppling Hess for the second consecutive week during the Cowboys Challenge last weekend in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

That celebration was hot off the heels of an even better one. After beating Hess during a tri-match in the UniWyo, Buchanan dropped his headgear as if it were a hot mic after a rap battle.

Meredith’s wrestling is what made him famous. But his charisma and on-mat demeanor made him captivating.

Meredith had the bleach-blonde hair, his own personalized wrestling shows and the coordinated celebrations. During interviews and after matches, Meredith spoke so eloquently that he had a gravitational pull about him.

He wasn’t just the face of Wyoming wrestling. Meredith was the face of collegiate wrestling.

Buchanan has a similar aura about him equipped with skills and an internal fire. He’s only a sophomore but he has the swagger of a cagy veteran. It wouldn't be surprising to see him follow in Meredith’s footsteps and contend for multiple national championships.

And Buchanan isn’t alone in his ascent up the rankings. He’s got plenty of company in that department.

For one, there’s former Sheridan Bronc, Hayden Hastings, who’s also ranked inside the top 10, coming in at No. 7 at 174 pounds. Hastings has but one loss this season and was the Big 12 Wrestler of the Week after winning his weight class at the Cowboys Challenge.

Those two join Tate Samuelson, who also checked in at No. 7 at 184 pounds. Those three join five others who boast a ranking of 33rd or better in their respective weight classes.

The Pokes have depth and are wrestling well as the season enters its championship stretch.

So it should come as no surprise that Wyoming wrestling is where it is right now. And in this unusual year, it’s nice to have something that feels so normal.

Bud Denega, former sports reporter at The Sheridan Press, is a graduate of the University of Wyoming and currently works as assistant sports information director at Northwestern State University. He is pursuing a masters degree in sports administration.

Cowboys Corner columnist

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