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MEEKER — It is the highest level of collegiate wrestling in the United States — the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Division I — and Meeker’s Joe LeBlanc became an All-American with a fifth-place finish in the 184-pound division at the NCAA Division I Championships, held last weekend in St. Louis.
“It was a great tournament,” LeBlanc, a 2007 Meeker High School graduate, said by phone, on his way back for classes at the University of Wyoming.
LeBlanc, a redshirt freshmen for the Cowboys of Wyoming and a three-time state champion for the Meeker Cowboys, won five of seven matches in St. Louis, losing only to the eventual champion and the consolation champion.
“It was a tough tournament but coach (Mark) Branch had us ready to compete at that level,” LeBlanc said. “We are in great condition and I believe it is an advantage for us.” LeBlanc was joined at the national tournament by three teammates but LeBlanc was the only Cowboy to earn All-American honors.
LeBlanc, who won the Western Athletic Conference the week before the NCAA tournament, was the No. 9 seed and defeated the No. 12 seed Jordan Blanton of Illinois 12-7 in the first round, then beat No. 8 seed David Craig of Lehigh by an 11-3 major decision.
By winning his first two matches, LeBlanc advanced to the quarterfinal round, where he was defeated by the No. 1 seed and defending national champ Jake Herbert of Northwestern 17-5.
“It was a good experience, wrestling a two-time national champ and four-time All-American,” LeBlanc said. “It shows I’m not there yet but gives me something to work for.”
Herbert, a sixth-year senior, was third as a freshman, second as a sophomore and was undefeated his junior and senior years.
LeBlanc came back to defeat No. 10 seed Chris Honeycutt of Edinboro 7-2, then pinned Josh Patterson of Binghamton in the first period. LeBlanc would face No. 7 seed Doug Umbehauer of Rider to determine if he would wrestle for third and fourth or fifth and sixth.
LeBlanc was beating Umbehauer in the third period before allowing him to tie the match and send it into sudden victory (overtime), where Umbehauer won with a takedown. Umbehauer went on to win the consolation championship by defeating the No. 2 seed Phil Keddy.
“That was the worst,” LeBlanc said of the loss to Umbehauer. “I was up by four with 40 seconds left and started wrestling not to lose, being more defensive and that is not my style. It was frustrating.”
LeBlanc put the loss behind him and came back to beat No. 12 seed Vince Jones of Nebraska 9-2 for fifth place and All-American honors.
LeBlanc said it was “fun” to wrestle in front of family and friends, which included his parents Bren and Sharon Sullivan, brother Barney and his family, former high school coach Willy Theos and mentor Charlie White.
“A lot of people helped Joe get to this level and it started with Coach (Bill) Turner and what he brought to Meeker when we were kids,” Bren Sullivan said. “I was glad he qualified, got the experience and didn’t get hurt.”
LeBlanc became the first NCAA Division I All-American for the Meeker Cowboys, and the first for the Wyoming Cowboys’ wrestling program since 1996. LeBlanc is also the first in Wyoming wrestling program’s history, to become an All-American as a freshman. LeBlanc is tied for third on Wyoming’s all-time single season victory list with Wes Gasner, who won 45 matches for the Cowboys in 1983-1984. LeBlanc ended his season with a 45-8 record.
LeBlanc was pleased with his finish but is not finished.
“I went out there with a goal of being a national champ, so I’m not satisfied yet,” LeBlanc said.