There’s one step left to take for a Central Oklahoma program that has built itself back among the NCAA Division II elite — the national championship.
The Bronchos came close last year, capturing a second straight regional crown before finishing as national runner-up, but the goal in 2022-23 is to stand alone as Division II’s best team.
UCO has the strength and experience to do just that, returning four All-Americans and three other starters from last year’s squad that went 13-0 in duals. The Bronchos claimed the NWCA Division II National Duals title for the first time since 2002 and had their best national tournament finish since winning the last of their 15 championships in 2007.
“We have a veteran team with a lot of experience and there’s no question that our goal is to win the national championship,” said sixth-year head coach Todd Steidley, whose team was ranked fourth in the preseason poll. “We’ll have a couple of new guys in the lineup and will be moving a few people into different weights, but this is an older group that knows what it takes to get where we want to be.
“We have to stay healthy, stay humble and come to practice every day willing to work hard. We’ve made a lot of progress the last few years to get to this stage and it’s not easy. It takes a lot of dedication and commitment and our guys have been willing to do that.”
Leading UCO’s charge this season is three-time All-American and defending national champion Dalton Abney, who ranks as one of the top 197-pounders in the nation at any level. The other returning All-Americans are 149 Brik Filippo, 174 Alex Kauffman and Hvy Shawn Streck, with Kauffman expected to move to 184 this season.
The Bronchos also have back three other starters in 141 Nate Keim, 157 Ty Lucas and 165 Hunter Jump. Lucas — a national qualifier last year after earning All-America honors in 2020 and ’21 — and Jump are both looking to bump up a weight class. Gabe Johnson, a national qualifier at 149 in 2021, is back after redshirting last year and will be at 157.
UCO appears to have good depth at most every weight and there’s no question that the Bronchos are poised for a spirited national championship run.
“We’re excited about what we can accomplish,” said Steidley, who has a 73-11 dual record with the Bronchos. “It’s a long season and a grind, but our guys embrace the challenge. I think we’re as good any team out there if we wrestle like we’re capable of, so now we have to go out there and prove it.”
Here’s a weight-by-weight look at the Bronchos.
A redshirt freshman and junior veteran will battle it out for the top spot
Garrett Steidley is a third-year freshman for the Bronchos, gaining a free year in 2020-21 when the NCAA didn’t count the shortened season and then redshirting in 2021-22. He went 14-2 in four open tournaments last season and has the ability to make an immediate impact.
Steidley probably ranks as the favorite, but junior Studd Morris can’t be counted out. Morris has seen spot starting duty and extensive back-up action at 125 and 133 the last three years, having compiled a 37-14 record in that span, so the Bronchos know what he’s capable of.