LARAMIE – The college wrestling world can blame Stephen Buchanan’s older brothers for any damage he causes during his time as a University of Wyoming wrestler. And if last week’s NCAA championships are any indicator, the damage will be substantial.
Buchanan, a sophomore from Wisconsin, finished his second collegiate season as the eighth-place finisher in the 197-pound weight class. He fell in the seventh-place match to Penn State’s Michael Beard.
Despite the loss, Buchanan’s top-eight finish in his class earned him NCAA All-American honors, becoming the 36th Cowboy to achieve the honor. Bryce Meredith and Montorie Bridges most recently accomplished the feat in 2018.
Though he’s only been on-campus for two years, Buchanan is rewriting the Pokes’ record books. His promising college career comes on the heels of a standout high school career that saw him go a whopping 184-16 with a pair of state championships.
The reason he’s a wrestler in the first place? His brothers were painfully bad at basketball, which forced all the siblings to pick up another sport.
“It’s my older two brothers’ fault,” Buchanan said with a chuckle. “My dad said we’re just going to wrestle … (basketball) was not a fit in our family.”
Basketball’s loss has been UW’s gain, however, as Buchanan has qualified for the NCAA championships in both of his seasons on campus. What makes his journey to Wyoming even more unlikely is that he had no idea where the state was located when he was first put in contact with coach Mark Branch.
“I almost had to look at the map. I didn’t have any interest at all,” Buchanan said. “I didn’t want to come out here.”
Among many things that eventually changed his mind was the idea of training at a high altitude. When he heard UW was located at 7,220 feet above sea level, Buchanan knew he would have an advantage over his opponents, particularly when traveling to schools located at significantly lower elevations. It also didn’t hurt that Buchanan fell in love with the coaching staff and Laramie itself.
Buchanan finished 26-13 as a freshman but never got to finish off his rookie campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which prematurely ended all college sports in March 2020. The moment when Branch got the team together to tell them the season was over was one of heartbreak and confusion.
But above all else, it was motivation for Buchanan to come back even better as a sophomore.
“I didn’t do well at Big 12 (championships). (So) I really wanted to show out at NCAAs,” Buchanan said. “It was a low blow.”
Buchanan returned with a vengeance in 2020-21, compiling a 14-6 record. Included in his victories was a win over top-ranked Noah Adams, West Virginia’s redshirt junior who had won 39 consecutive matches up to that point. The two squared off three more times during the season. Buchanan went 4-0, including a pin at the NCAA championships to reach the quarterfinals.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Buchanan entered the NCAA championships with a calm demeanor, fully aware he could compete with the best of the best. He didn’t look at it as the culmination of his season and something that was defining. It was just another tournament, he told himself, and he was just as deserving of being there as anyone else.
Buchanan more than proved that was the case.
In the quarterfinals of the NCAA championships, which were held in St. Louis, Buchanan faced No. 1-ranked Myles Amine from Michigan. The two went toe-to-toe, with Amine eventually emerging victorious 7-6.
Buchanan rebounded to defeat No. 19 Thomas Penola from Purdue before ultimately falling in the seventh-place match.
Losing to Amine was a disappointing outcome for Buchanan, who wants nothing more than to be the absolute best version of himself. It did, however, provide him with even more inspiration.
“Our coach always says just go with confidence … we can wrestle with anyone. It doesn’t matter the school, doesn’t matter the rank,” Buchanan said. “It was kind of crappy that I lost to (Amine). It was right there… it really shows you what you need to work on.”
As he enters the offseason, Buchanan is not anywhere near content with his spectacular sophomore campaign. There are plenty of little things to work on, he says, and that accumulation of little improvements is what will take him over the top.
Eighth place is all well and good, and it’s something Buchanan is proud of. But he came to Laramie to win national titles. Not one, he notes, but several.
For someone who previously couldn’t find Wyoming on a map, Buchanan is certainly making his mark in the Equality State.
“When I came here I knew I wanted to be a multiple time NCAA champion …. I have a long way to go still to finish … but I know I have the tools to get there,” Buchanan said. “It was nice to have that honor, but I’m not just stopping at All-American.”