The Powell High School wrestling team pulled away from the Casper Events Center after pulling away from the rest of the Class 3A competition to bring home the Panthers’ third straight state title over the weekend.
“It was the best state championship I’ve been a part of,” said PHS head coach Nate Urbach.
Powell notched 224.5 team points, giving it a comfortable cushion over second-place Douglas, which scored 201 points. Star Valley finished third with 178, Worland was fourth with 167 and Torrington finished fifth with 129.5.
The coach said his team’s recent run of success has a lot to do with Powell’s youth wrestling programs and the dedication of each wrestler.
Also, it helps when the kids are just plain good.
“A lot of it is plain old luck,” Urbach said. “You just get those classes that come through at the right time.”
The five Panther champions came across three grades.
Senior Zach Thompson and sophomore Kye Catlin each won their second consecutive titles while junior Riley Stringer and sophomores Chance Karst and Nic Urbach each won their first titles.
Thompson won the 195-title with a 6-1 decision over Jackson’s Theodore Dawson.
“He was calm and focused and took care of business,” Urbach said. “I think he’s real excited to end as a two-timer and now go on and have a good college career.”
Thompson, who has signed on to wrestle for Chadron State next year, received a bye in the opening round, then won the quarters by technical fall, a fall in the semifinals and finally, the decision.
Catlin pinned each of his four opponents, including Torrington’s No.1-ranked Justin Polkowske in the 145-pound title bout.
Catlin was up 11-1 when he took Polkowske down and completed the upset.
“He rose to the occasion,” Urbach said. “He looked great.”
Stringer rose to meet Coach Urbach after pulling out a 4-3 decision over Worland’s Casey Hernandez to claim the 220-pound championship.
Anticipating a title for Stringer, Urbach said before the title bout he told his 220-pound finalist, “Hey, when you win, jump pretty high because you weigh 220!”
Stringer, who was named the Casper Star-Tribune’s Super 25 Defensive Player of the Year for football, went 4-0 with two falls and two decisions.
“I was really proud of how he looked all tournament,” Urbach said. “That boy has had a heck of a year — holy cow.”
Coach Urbach got to experience the first-hand joy of watching his son, Nic, claim his first state title.
Nic Urbach went 4-0 with two pins and two technical falls, including a 17-1 win over Douglas’ Jordan Pingrey for the 126-pound championship.
For Nic, the blowout win avenged a 2013 state finals loss to Pingrey. Up 14-0, Urbach appeared to be headed to a tech fall last year, but he got out of position and Pingrey took advantage and pinned Urbach.
“It went from worst possible scenario to best possible scenario,” Coach Urbach said.
Nic Urbach was one of a trio of sophomores (along with Karst and Catlin) who look to lead the Panthers to continued success in the next two years.
“They put a lot of offseason time in,” Urbach said of his second-year wrestlers. “That’s just a phenomenal group of boys there.”
Karst defeated Pinedale's Traison Swenson by a 15-5 major decision to take first at 120 pounds. Karst was barely challenged during his tournament run, in which he was 4-0 with two falls and two major decisions.
Junior Jacob Davis came out on the wrong side of perhaps the tournament’s most tense match. It took six rounds, but Davis lost to Cody’s John Beaudrie 8-7 in overtime and finished as the runner-up at 160 pounds.
Urbach spoke of Davis with pride and a hint of anguish in his voice.
“Jake Davis wrestled the best match of his life and came within a whisker of winning it,” Urbach said.
Senior Matthew Widdicombe overcame a semifinal defeat to take third place at 152 pounds.
Urbach said a lot of wrestlers would lose focus after their title dreams are dashed, but Widdicombe remained determined and shut out Star Valley’s Paul Semadeni 5-0 in the consolation finals.
“It takes a special kind of kid, to be a senior ... and to come back and get third for your team,” Urbach said. “It’s a credit to him that he (thought), ‘No, I’ve got a team to worry about.’
“He’ll be missed, that’s for certain.”
Junior Colton Parham beat Justis Reynolds of Rawlins 4-2 to finish third at 132 pounds.
Parham lost to Justin Lewton of Worland (who went on to win his fourth straight title) in the semis but finished 4-1 to place for the Panthers.
“It was real hard for him to get to the finals but he got third and beat a guy that beat him earlier in the year to get third with a last-second takedown,” Urbach said.
Junior Rowdy Gard also took third in the heavyweight division. Gard pinned Kegan Wells at 4:52 of the third-place match to win his fifth bout of the tournament. Gard lost his first match but was 5-1 overall and defeated both wrestlers who lost in the championship bracket’s semifinals.
“He dodged a lot of bullets,” Urbach said of Gard’s long road to third place. “That shows a lot of heart, too.”
Junior Noah Wozney took fourth and scored “huge points for us,” Urbach said.
Senior Colbee Craig finished his last season as a Panther with a 1-2 record at state.
Urbach said Craig (138 pounds) is a two-time medalist for Powell and suffered “a couple close losses but it doesn’t take away from his career.”
Senior Grant Nickles also wrapped up his wrestling career in Casper. Nickles went 2-2 with two pins.
“He’s one of those kids that keeps getting better every year,” Urbach said.
Urbach thanked his assistant coaches for helping Powell retain its title as state champions.
“You can’t do it without them, it just doesn’t work that way,” Urbach said of assistant coaches Zach Coombs, Juston Carter and volunteer coach Tim Jordan.