Punchers sending 11 qualifiers to State

Robert Galbreath photo

BIG PINEY – Following a grueling, day-long regional tournament, Big Piney qualified 11 wrestlers for the 2A State Tournament in Casper on Feb. 25. Due to public health restrictions, conference competition was split between two locations, and only the top four made State.

The Punchers hosted the 2A Southwest Quadrant on Saturday, Feb. 18, and the team finished fourth out of six schools competing with 116 points.

“The coaching staff are very proud of the progress of all our wrestlers this year,” said head coach Cole Clifford. “They improved so much from the start to the end. We were concerned on how many we would qualify, and for us to get 11 is outstanding.”

Sophomore Thomas Howard won the Regional Championship in the 195-pound weight class, coming out on top by a 12-6 decision in a closely fought final round against Dylan Hagler of Kemmerer.

“It feels good to get first,” said Howard. “This is my first time winning the regional championship. I’m looking forward to taking State.”

Howard added that his favorite match was the first round against Hunter Pattison of Wind River.

“He was way more aggressive than I was used to,” he said. “That propelled me to the finals.”

Junior Robert Hunt took second place in the 285-pound division. Hunt defeated Dubois’ Jett Jones by fall in the third-place match to advance to the finals.

“It feels great,” said Hunt. “This is my first year wrestling, and I got second place – I don’t know how, but yeah, I did it.”

In the 106-pound weight class, freshman Jackie Meador took second place, taking on Karl Haslem of Kemmerer in the final match.

“It feels amazing getting second,” he said. “I feel like I worked really hard for it. I wrestled (Haslem) before, and I think I wrestled much better and much tougher and tried my hardest. I’m really excited for State – this is my first year wrestling in high school.”

Senior Braxton Smith took third place in the 152-pound weight class.

“My favorite match was my second match (against Cokeville’s Ammon Halls) that I lost,” he said. “It just showed never underestimate someone, because I beat him earlier this year. You just have to get in the right mindset and prepare, and that was a good learning lesson. I’m looking forward to placing at state and getting him back.”

Sophomore Brandon Jones came in third in the 145-pound division after pinning Cokeville’s Dakota Nelson.

“That last match was honestly my favorite,” said Jones. “Somewhere along the line, I told the kid that I was going to get him at Regionals, and I did. I’m looking forward to hopefully placing at State.”

Junior Jaron Petty battled teammate Wiley Smith, a sophomore, in a tight third-place match that Petty won by an 8-4 decision.

“My favorite match was probably the one just before my last match (against Zakirie Malone of Kemmerer) because I was down 7-1, very big, and I had to throw a last minute headlock that got the pin for me,” Petty said. “I’m looking forward to doing the best I can at State, and never stop trying.”

Wiley Smith came in fourth in the 138-pound division after beating Kemmerer’s Abel Alverado in the consolation semifinals.

“I lost against (Alverado) last week, and I had no clue if I was going to win or not,” he said. “I just tried my best and I turned out on top. I hope to try my best and do good at State. I’ll be happy if I place and happy if I don’t.”

Kael Visser, a senior, took fourth place in the 182-pound class.

“My favorite match was my second one,” Visser said. “It was probably one of my longest matches this year because it’s only my second year wrestling and I hadn’t done that well thus far, but did pretty good that time. I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do at State.”

Bradley Rodda, a sophomore, took fourth place in the 120-pound division.

“My favorite match was my third one against K.C. Gibson (Wind River) because he was very aggressive and very sportsmanlike as an opponent. I’m looking forward to the opportunity of going to state and the competition I’ll see there.”

Freshman David Farrington placed fourth after defeating his teammate, sophomore Braunsn Smith, after a closely fought three-period match.

“Unfortunately, I had to wrestle a teammate to get to where I am,” said Farrington. “But, all in all, we both agree with the decision. We both wrestled the hardest that we could. It’s hard to wrestle a teammate; he’s still my teammate and I love him like a brother and look forward seeing him with us at State as well.”

Freshman Zach Murphy finished fourth in the 220-pound weight division.

“My favorite part was the second match against the Wind River kid (Tucker Jensen), probably because I felt like I had a chance. I’m looking to placing at least fourth or above at State.”

Senior Maggie Allmon, speaking for managers, said she looks forward to “pulling pranks on the coaches,” a tradition at State.

“It’s been a fun four years,” she said.

Coach Clifford praised the efforts of team members that did not quite make the cut.

“Zoey Guerrero and Maerin Fazendin are two tough young ladies,” he said. “I am so proud of their courage to step on the mat week in and week out and not back down. Anton Vickrey has improved so much since his freshman year. He has become a more rounded wrestler.

“Karson Cline had a great week of wrestling. I loved his energy and passion on the mat. James McCormick might be the most improved wrestler on the team. I love his courage to take on all that he faces. Braunsn Smith is a ball of fire. I love his passion and energy and his improvement as a young man is impeccable.”