EDMOND — No. 12-ranked Central Oklahoma makes the long trek to Las Vegas, New Mexico, this weekend for the NCAA Division II West Super Regional, which serves as a qualifying tournament for the NCAA Division II Championships.
It will be a loaded field in the two-day event hosted by New Mexico Highlands, with nine of the 16 teams ranked in the top 25.
The top-four placers in each of the 10 weights advance to the national tournament, set for March 9-10 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Leading the way are a trio of top 10 clubs — No. 4 California Baptist, No. 5 Colorado State-Pueblo and No. 10 Simon Fraser — with UCO, No. 14 Nebraska-Kearney, No. 16 Fort Hays State, No. 19 Western Colorado, No. 21 Colorado Mesa and No. 25 San Francisco State rounding out the ranked teams.
Also competing will be the host Cowboys along with “Central Missouri, Newman, Adams State, Chadron State, Colorado School of Mines and Ouachita Baptist.
“It's the toughest, most balanced regional in the country and will be quite a challenge for us,” said second-year head coach Todd Steidley, who has a 31-4 dual record at the UCO helm. “There will be a lot of great teams there and every team has at least a few quality individuals.
“Our goal obviously is to qualify all nine of our guys for the national tournament. That may be asking a lot, but we're capable of doing that. All the hard work and sacrifices made during the season comes down to how we compete this weekend, because you can't do anything at the national tournament if you don't make it there.”
The tournament gets underway at 11 a.m. Friday with two rounds of championship and consolation action before continuing at 6 p.m. with championship semifinals and consolation quarterfinals.
The consolation semifinals will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, followed by the placement matches at 12 p.m.
Making up UCO's nine-wrestler contingent will be Eli Hale at 125 pounds, Blake Dauphin at 133, Josh Breece at 141, Will Steltzlen at 149, Bryan Dutton at 157, Mason Thompson at 165, Reid Rodich at 174, Colton Looper at 197 and Caleb Cotter at heavyweight.
Dauphin, Breece, Steltzlen, Dutton, Thompson and Cotter all have regional tournament experience, while the other three will be making their first appearance in the Division II postseason.
Dauphin finished sixth in the regional last year after going 1-2 in 2016, has 67 career wins to his credit and is 19-11 this season.
Breece went 2-2 in the 2014 regional at 125 and carries a 4-8 record, with just one of those matches at 141.
Steltzlen went 1-2 at last year's regional after losing two tough matches the year before. He's won a team-high 31 matches (31-12) and owns 69 career victories.
Dutton, a former All-American while at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, was the regional runner-up last season in making it to the national tourney, where he went 1-2.
He's 21-16 this season and has won 55 matches during his two years with the Bronchos.
Thompson narrowly missed out on a national tournament berth as a redshirt freshman in 2016, coming in fifth at 174 after losing the fourth-place challenge match.
He carries a 27-17 record with a team-leading 17 falls – which ranks seventh on UCO's single-season list – and has 66 career wins.
Cotter, another former NEO All-American, will be looking to claim his second straight regional championship after taking the title last year en route to earning All-America honors with a seventh-place national finish.
The senior standout enters the regional ranked fourth nationally with a 27-2 record and is 60-7 with 27 bonus wins for his UCO career.
Hale has had a dramatic impact on the Bronchos since joining the team as a mid-season transfer from Oklahoma State.
He has dominated the competition in putting together a perfect 16-0 record with 11 bonus-point wins and enters the regional ranked No. 1 nationally.
Rodich is 8-10 for the Bronchos, while Looper is 17-7 with nine falls.