Coach Nathan Urbach has plenty of experience to work with among the 31 wrestlers working out in the room this year, including eight wrestlers who earned medals at state last year. Six more Panthers wrestled in the state meet and will bring that experience to the new season as well.
Leading the returnees are two three-time medalists who have brought home gold medals in the past. Olie Olson won the state championship at 160 last year, and was also a state champ his freshman year before settling for third place in 2010. Randy Andrews won the 2009 state championship at 140 after finishing fifth his freshman year, and last year battled back from an unfortunate loss in the opening round to finish third.
Other 2011 medalists returning to the mat are seniors Charles Wittick, Waylon Bays, Clay Saldana and Kurt Bullinger along with junior Tyler Patterson. Wittick reached the finals at 103 last year before losing a one-point decision. Bays, a third-place finisher in 2010, missed several weeks with an injured ankle last year but still wrestled to fourth place at 145 in last year’s state meet. Saldana, who has wrestled at state three times, and Bullinger both batted to fifth place finishes. Patterson made his first visit to state last year and finished sixth at 152.
Another former medalist, Zach Thiel, did not wrestle last year, but competed at state his freshman and sophomore years, finishing fourth at 125 in 2010.
Other state qualifiers returning for the Panthers are juniors Dylan Rood, Drew Feller and Mike Munday and sophomores Colbee Craig, Anthony Lujan, and Zack Thompson. Lujan is nursing a football injury this week, but Urbach thinks he will be able to return to the mat down the road.
Urbach said the returning state wrestlers provide a good foundation, but contributions from other returnees as well as the seven freshmen out for the team will be needed if the Panthers are to improve on their third-place team finish last year.
“Team-wise, we have to grow,” Urbach said. “We need to work at it and develop our skills to compete for state.”
The wrestlers face a few changes this year, including revisions that have increased the allowable weight in the 10 of the 14 weight classes. Urbach said he doesn’t think the changes will be a problem for Powell, and he believes he will be able to field a complete lineup, once his wrestlers reach their competition weights.
A bigger change is in the conference alignment this year. Star Valley returns to the West Conference after four years at the 4A level, and will likely present the biggest challenge to the Panthers in regional competition. Urbach said Lander returns a number of wrestlers, and he expects the Tigers to be among the top teams.
With the addition of Star Valley, the West Conference loses Worland, the defending state champion, as the Warriors will move to the East Conference. Worland joins current eastern power Douglas, which edged Powell for the state championship in 2009, as one of the teams to beat, Urbach said.
The Panthers get an early start to the season Thursday (today) when they take on the 4A Kelly Walsh Trojans. Friday and Saturday, they will host the Powell Invitational, which traditionally opens the season and draws teams from around Wyoming as well as a few Montana schools every year.
Thursday’s competition begins with JV matches at 6:30 p.m. and varsity at 7 p.m. The tournament opens Friday at noon with pool wrestling and continues Saturday beginning at 9 a.m.