By NATHAN OSTER
A season that began with question marks up and down the order and with only six kids having any state wrestling experience whatsoever ended on a high note for Greybull-Riverside last weekend at the Casper Events Center.
The Buffs brought home a trophy, which was the goal, finishing fourth in the 21-team field with 126.5 points and trailing only 2A champion Moorcroft-Hulett (which set a new 2A team record with 263 points), Cokeville (170) and Lovell (147.5).
“I always play the bracketology game where I count points … and we came in right about where I thought we would,” said Coach Mark Sanford. “In one scenario, I had us having 13 points more; in another three points more.
“But Lovell scored 18 more than I thought they would, too, so give credit to them.”
Thirteen of G-R’s 15 state qualifiers won matches in Casper. Leading the charge were its eight placers: Luke Zeller, second at 160; Cole Hill, third at 145; Spencer Redland, third at 195; Jesus Burgos, fifth at 138; Rob Nuttall, fifth at 170; Zane Edeler, fifth at 220; Tanner Bernstein, fifth at 285; and Matt Brown, sixth at 182.
Zeller was the only Buff to make finals. The reigning 2A champion at 160, he coasted through his first three matches before losing to his old nemesis, Nathan Grant of Lovell. The two met seven times this year, with Grant winning five, Zeller two.
The match in Casper was tight throughout. Zeller scored the first point on an escape, but Grant scored two big takedowns to build a 5-2 lead. A false start penalty brought Zeller to within 5-3, but that was as close as he would get. With Grant in control, Zeller need an escape and a takedown to win. He went for it — but it didn’t work out as planned, as he ended up in an awkward position. Grant covered him and ultimately got the pin with just 11 seconds left in the match.
“It was disappointing, but Luke was going for the win, and you can’t fault him for that,” Sanford said of the final seconds of the match. The loss was a difficult one for both athlete and coach. Two days later, Sanford struggled to put Zeller’s career into perspective.
“It’s tough,” he said. “He’s done so much, from USA all the way through high school, and he’ll go down as one of the best wrestlers I’ve ever coached. Definitely one of the most knowledgable about wrestling.”
Sanford recalled that Zeller and fellow seniors Dylan Brenner (who was unable to wrestle this year due to an injury) and Nuttall were the last remaining members off Greybull-Riverside’s championship team in 2010. They were also together as the team dealt with tragedy off the mat.
“The most impressive thing about Luke is that as a senior, he really stepped up as a leader. They’d finish up running stairs and he’d grab three or four of the more inexperienced kids and lead them back to the wrestling room where they’d work on stuff. Before this year, he never really had to be a leader. It was impressive. We had more returning placers last year and we didn’t get a trophy. This year we did — and Luke deserves a lot of credit for that.”
Both of Greybull-Riverside’s third-place finishers were good stories as well.
Cole Hill “probably had the best tournament of anyone on our team,” said Sanford, noting that the freshman’s only loss was to Luke Lovett of Moorcroft (who went on to place second) and that he picked up four other wins. Several were impressive, including one over 41-15 Alex Ferguson of Wright and another over 27-19 Hyrum Hopkin of Lovell.
But the third-place match was the icing on the cake. In it, he faced Wyatt Hageman of Lingle-Fort Laramie, who entered the tournament with a 36-3 record. In the semifinals one night earlier, Hageman had battled Brigham Teichert of Cokeville before losing “the bloodbath” 4-1.
Hill wasn’t intimidated. He battled Hageman through three periods and into overtime before posting the 7-5 win. “It was the best match of his high school career so far,” said Sanford. “What a nice win and a nice way to end the season.”
The memorable part of Redland’s weekend was the way he finished. He easily won his first two matches to make semis, where he lost in heartbreaking fashion to Colby Thurston of Lusk, the No. 1 seed from the East. Thurston scored the winning point with one second left when the ref whistled Redland for stalling.
But the Riverside product responded like a champion, “wrestling the last two matches better than he has all season.” He won both to finish third. “Spencer was aggressive from start to finish.”
Sanford said that if Redland can avoid the type of mistakes that cost him a place last year (when he was fourth, instead of third), and this year (when he was third, instead of second), he’ll likely find himself in the finals next year as a senior.
Redland and Hill’s final wins came in the midst of what Sanford would later call “one of the best rounds I’ve ever seen from any of the teams I’ve taken to state.” It came in the third- and fifth-place matches Saturday afternoon, as Burgos, Nuttall, Edeler and Berstein made the Buffs a perfect 6-for-6 in that round. Only Matt Brown lost — and his was by injury default.
Burgos went 4-2 for the weekend, and one of his wins came over Brody Lay of Lingle-Fort Laramie, who entered with a 35-15 record. Burgos also beat his old nemesis, Dalton Perkins of Wind River, in his first and final matches of the tournament.
“Zeus did a great job,” Sanford said. “Coming in fifth … it was a nice finish for his junior year.”
Nuttall capped his career by winning three of his five matches in Casper. Quite a finish for a wrestler who, when the season began, didn’t even know if he’d be recovered enough from an ankle injury in football to even compete. His big win came in the quarters, when he defeated Travis Jinks of Southeast, 4-2. Sanford credited Nuttall for the way he finished, shaking off two straight losses to defeat Jinks again in the semifinals.
“Rob has gone through so much in his athletic career,” Sanford said. “But he has battled through it all. I didn’t know if he’d wrestle this year, but Rob’s a fired up, emotional kid, so he just kept working. It was nice to see him finish the way he did. It was an emotional moment for all of us. I’m proud of him, just for having that opportunity in the first place.”
Brown won his first two matches, including a clutch 7-1 triumph over Cecil Brockman of Burns-Pine Bluffs, to earn a spot in the semifinals. But a loss to Tel West of Moorcroft there was followed by another setback, 5-1, to Zane Hladky of Lusk in which Brown suffered an injury. He injury defaulted in the fifth-place match, where his opponent would have been Brockman.
“Matt had a good season coming off swimming last year,” said Sanford. “He gets a few things taken care of, like getting better on his feet, and he’ll be a tough kid to wrestle next year.”
Edeler was the master of the pin in Casper, winning all four of his matches by fall. His only losses were to Jacob Wells of Saratoga and Patrick Forster of Shoshoni — and Edeler avenged the Wells loss by sticking him in just 36 seconds in the fifth-place match.
Edeler placed second at state last year, but the “the weight class was a little different … and we were a little different too,” said Sanford, adding that he’d like to see Edeler “add a leg attack” instead of simply relying on his throwing ability, which he described as “the best on the team.”
Bernstein was hobbled by an ankle injury, but he still managed to win his first two matches before running into Justin Irene of Hanna in the semis. Irene had a big edge in weight, and at one point his knee landed hard on Bernstein’s ankle, aggravating the injury. Bernstein lost that match and was held out of his next match so that he could focus on the fifth-place match, in which he gutted out a pin in 2:49.
“Tanner did a really good job,” said Sanford. “He should be a force next year too. The key for him is, he always brings it on Friday and Saturday. If he can learn to bring it like that in the practice room, it’s really going to help.”
Five other Buffs won matches, but did not place, including Luis Burgos at 106, Ryan Peoples at 126, Jarrod Johnson at 160, Tommy Bernstein at 170 and Luke Young at 182. Sanford had good things to say about all of them.
Burgos didn’t get a lot of mat time but showed good potential.
Peoples produced three team points with a big pin and showed great effort.
Johnson won two matches, both of them by pin. In one he surprised his coach by simply refusing to lose.
Bernstein used “a great effort” to notch a one-point victory in one of his matches.
Young “did a really nice job too,” Sanford said, noting that he won his match by pin and, like the others, made solid improvement during the sason.
The two Buffs who didn’t win matches had one thing in common: tough draws. But both Marshall Gibbs, at 113, and Anthony Eibert, at 152, are young and have good potential, according to Sanford.
As he looks ahead to next year, Sanford believes Moorcroft and Cokeville will again be strong, but that if things break right, his team could be in the mix as well.
“When you think about it, for nine of our 15 kids, this was their first experience in a state wrestling tournament,” said Sanford, adding that injuries derailed several others, including Brenner, Oscar Gomez and Chris Ogg, who could have been factors in Casper.
STATE 2A TOURNAMENT
TEAM SCORES: Moorcroft-Hulett 263, Cokeville 170, Lovell 147.5, G-R 126.5, Shoshoni 95, Wright 85, Thermopolis 80.5, Lingle-Fort Laramie 80, Southeast 65.5, Burns-Pine Bluffs 64, Dubois 61, Saratoga 61 ,Wind River 59, Rocky Mt. 57.5, HEM 55, Kemmerer 53.5, Lusk 40, Big Piney 27, Upton 16, Sundance 13, Wyoming Indian 6.
106 — Luis Burgos (5-8) lost by fall to Thomas Garvie (LFL), 0:33; pinned Tayte Payne (Coke), 0:30; lost to Keanen Pfisterer (WR) 6-4.
113 — Marshall Gibbs (12-27) lost by tech fall to Connor Wilkinson (SHO), 15-0; lost by fall to Orion Smith (Wri), 2:50.
126 — Ryan Peoples (4-24) lost by fall to Merritt Hageman (LFL), 3:29; pinned Mark Ballou (Sho), 3:32; lost by fall to Joey Bassett (Lov), 4:17.
138 — Jesus Burgos (25-18) defeated Dalton Perkins (WR), 6-3; lost to Toby Reynolds (Moor), 4-1; pinned Jarred Glenn (Moor), 0:49; defeated Brody Lay (LFL), 8-2; lost to Bonner Brown (BP), 11-0; defeated Perkins, 7-3 to place fifth.
145 — Cole Hill (28-21) pinned Caleb Sipe (The), 1:46; defeated Alex Ferguson (Wri), 3-1; lost by fall to Luke Lovett, 1:55; won by tech fall over Hyrum Hopkin (Lov), 17-2; defeated Wyatt Hageman (LFL), 7-5 in overtime to place third.
152 — Anthony Eibert (17-30) lost by fall to Rylie Richardson (HEM), 1:05; and lost by fall to Rylee Roberts (Kem), 1:57.
160 — Luke Zeller (38-8) pinned Josh McCracken (RM), 1:48; pinned Kaleb O’Connor (BPB), 1:07; pinned Preston Neiman (Moor), 1:11; lost by fall to Nathan Grant (Lov), 5:49, to place second.
160 — Jarrod Johnson (5-12) lost by fall to Julian Preston (SE), 3:24; pinned Hunter Quick (Wri), 0:45; pinned Justis Fisher (BP), 3:29; lost to Kaleb O’Connor (BPB), 10-2.
170 — Tommy Bernstein (5-11) lost by fall to Jacob Beck (Lov), 0:55; defeated Garett Story (BPB), 6-5; lost by fall to Travis Jinks (SE), 4:23.
170 — Rob Nuttall (9-5) defeated Ian Davidson (RM), 12-3; defeated Travis Jinks (SE), 4-2; lost by fall to Colter Linford (Coke), 3:25; lost to R.J. Seaman (HEM), 4-2; defeated Jinks (SE), 7-4, to finish fifth.
182 — Luke Young (8-12) lost by fall to Tel West (Moor), 1:21; pinned Dustin Grande (Moor), 2:14; lost by fall to Cecil Brockman (BPB), 0:49.
182 — Matt Brown (19-15) won by forfeit over Logan Welch (Kemm); defeated Cecil Brockman (BPB), 7-1; lost by fall to Tel West, 5:23; lost to Zane Hladkly (Lusk), 5-1; lost by injury forfeit to Brockman (BPB) to finish sixth.
195 — Spencer Redland (22-15) pinned Nash Jolley (Lov), 5:24; defeated Colton Stees (SE), 12-6; lost to Colby Thurston (Lusk), 3-2; won by major decision over Clayton Svalina (Moor), 9-1; pinned Stees (2:26) to finish third.
220 — Zane Edeler (17-16) pinned Chase Meeker (BP), 1:06; lost to Jacob Wells (Sara), 9-8; pinned Eli Childers (BPB), 1:32; pinned Kodey LaMont (BPB), 0:58; lost by fall to Patrick Forster (Sho), 2:52; pinned Wells, 0:36 to finish fifth.
285 — Tanner Bernstein (22-12) pinned Hazer Hinkle (Sara), 2:56; lost to Justin Irene (HEM), 8-2; lost by injury default to Charles Oldman (WR); pinned Galen LeGois (Sho), 2:49 to place fifth.