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PHS wrestlers look to take down 3A

Powell High School wrestling coach Nate Urbach isn’t getting defensive as his team begins its quest for a third consecutive state title.

“The outlook this year should be the same as the first year we won it,” Urbach said. “We want to earn another one, not defend it.”

Powell begins its season at noon Friday when it hosts the Powell Wrestling Tournament. The 20-team tourney will continue at 9 a.m. Saturday.

The Panthers are aware of the position they’re in, a position made more clear by PHS football’s pace-setting third title a few weeks ago, but Urbach is trying keep the mindset the same as it’s always been.

“You always want to win state, so the pressure’s basically the same,” the coach said.

For his part, Urbach is focusing his attention towards having the best team at the state tournament in Casper Feb. 28-March 1. The season leading up to state is a precursor to the main event.

“Everything’s practice ’til state,” Urbach said. “I just try to see if I can help these kids take the most steps between now and February.”

The Panthers have 31 wrestlers throwing their weight around this year, marking another strong class for the program.

Six seniors, including 195-pound state champion Zach Thompson, return to the mat. Powell will also sport eight juniors, nine sophomores and eight freshmen.

“I’ve been lucky to have eight or nine kids every year in the freshman class, so that helps us a ton,” Urbach said.

The coach said he knows he can count on his upperclassmen to contribute as they have in years past, but to be truly great a couple up-and-comers will have to prove themselves.

“You always want to have a couple kids surprise you,” Urbach said. “You want a couple kids that were average the year before become one of your good staples.”

Those breakout moments that could lift a good team to a bonafide title contender likely won’t happen until the new year. Urbach said it takes at least a month before he can judge his team and solidify his roster for dual meets.

“Until Christmas it’s way up in the air,” Urbach said.

How the Panthers arise to early-season challenges will go a long way in revealing what the team is capable of.

The Rapid City Invitational (Dec. 13-14), Worland Dual Tournament (Dec. 20-21) and Mile City Invitational (Jan. 10-11) will all feature stiff competition for Powell.

Urbach said he expects Douglas, Worland, Cody and Star Valley to be the teams most able to knock Powell off its 3A throne.

“I want to see what they do when they get challenged,” Urbach said. “I’ve had teams that have shrunk from it and I’ve had teams that have rose up.”

But it’s not necessarily all about wins and losses, at least not at this weekend’s home tournament.

“All I want them to do is be aggressive and wrestle hard for six minutes,” Urbach said. “I really don’t care about mistakes at this point, we can fix those.

“I don’t expect kids to be perfect, but I do expect them to compete.”

The Panthers, with more than a half-dozen football players on the roster, are dealing with only one injury of note.

Senior Anthony Lujan, who wrestles at 182 pounds, is rehabbing a back injury and Urbach said the plan is to play it safe.

“We’re going to make sure he’s healthy before we put him back out,” Urbach said. “I’m going to need him at the end of the year and I want to make sure he’s healthy enough to get there.”

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