Following a breakout year in which the Mustangs took five wrestlers to the NJCAA National Tournament and scored three top-five finishes, Head Coach Art Castillo’s squad is ready for what may prove to be the most exciting and successful season in the program’s history.
Led by returning sophomore and 2016 national runner-up Cole Verner, of Green River, who is currently ranked #1 at 125 lbs., the Mustangs will open regular-season home competition on Friday, Nov. 11, at 7 p.m. versus Northwest College. (Full NJCAA D-I rankings.)
Western opened regular-season play at the Cowboy Open in Laramie on Nov. 5.
“We had a pretty good outing last weekend,” said Castillo, who is in his eighth season as head coach. “There weren’t too many surprises either way. Our effort was there, our physical shape is coming along fine. We are just young. We made a lot of mistakes, but from a coaching perspective that is normal. Those are correctable, and I expect we will learn from those mistakes.”
Sophomore returner Aspen Naylor led the Mustangs, going 7-1 on the day and finishing third in the amateur division.
“We have a ton of work to do to get to where we need to be, but I think these guys are excited about that and are eager to learn and get better,” Castillo said.
Verner was 33-6 last season and lost a close national championship finals match. He received the NJCAA National Championship Joseph A. Rockenback Sportsmanship Award for 2016.
“It wasn’t a first place, I’ll say that much. I was bummed I lost,” Verner said. “But I look at it as, the kid across the mat at that Finals match, if he has worked through what I’ve worked through, then he deserves to be there just as much as anybody else."
Verner won several matches in Laramie last week but was scratched from the semifinals due to a minor hand injury. He is expected to compete on Friday.
“Everyone around here knew how good he was, but I think, for his size and stature, that he doesn’t get quite the credit that he deserves,”Castillo said of his top-ranked returner. “He’s a tremendous athlete, on top of being a great wrestler. And, just being kind of local, I think people said, ‘Oh, he’s pretty good, for around here.’ And he went out and did some great things on the mat.
“But also, he’s a tremendous kid, a tremendous leader. He represents our community, our institution, and our team very well. We’re lucky to have him,” he added.
Verner leads a deep squad that boasts seven high school champions, plus Wyoming state champ Ryan Bradshaw, who is redshirting this season. Two-time Utah state champ Andrew Astle wrestles in Verner’s weight class and will push the highly touted sophomore as he works to win a national title.
At 133 lbs., three-time Utah state champ Tanner Cox and Arizona state champ Angel Laguna will compete with California standout Ricky Navarrete for mat time. At 141 lbs., the Mustangs have Utah state champ Kenny Astle and Idaho state champ Lane Hunt, along with Utah state placer Andy Larsen and Miguel Ramos, of Santa Ana, Calif.
Highly touted Colorado recruit and state champion Samuel Freeman checks in at 149 lbs. for the Mustangs, Idaho state placer Ky Webb and German Prudencio, of Santa Ana, Calif., will also compete in this weight class. At 157 lbs., sophomore returner Oscar Acosta, of Tucson, Ariz., will compete with Utah state champ Ryan Winger, of Centerville, and Arizona state placer Mason Perkins,
Arizona state champ Marco Frias and four-time Wyoming state placer Shandon Welsh will represent the Mustangs at 165 lbs., and two-time Colorado state placer Matt Hebel and Idaho state placer Jared Sargent will compete at 174 lbs. Sargent may also see time at 184 lbs., where two-time Utah state placer Shane French will also compete. The Mustangs also have a redshirt freshman, Jay Westcott, at this weight.
Westcott may also compete with sophomore returner and national qualifier Naylor and freshman Wade French at 197 lbs. In the heavyweight division, at 285 lbs., returning national qualifier “Big Jake” Van Valkenburg, along with third-year returner Dexter Bess and freshman Ed Anguiano, of California.
Western will host five home duals this year, beginning with Friday’s versus Northwest College. Additional duals include Monday, Nov. 21, versus Colby College, Saturday, Dec. 17, versus Otero Junior College, Tuesday, Jan. 10, versus Northwestern Junior College, and Friday, Feb. 3, versus Northwest Kansas Tech. All start times are 7 p.m. except for the Feb. 3 dual, which begins at 6 p.m., and the Dec. 17 dual, for which the start time has yet to be determined.