Powell Invite opens season for Panthers


{gallery}12_02_10/phswrestling{/gallery}Jessee Craig (left) and Dylan Rood go head to head during practice Tuesday as they prepare to begin competition this weekend. As they have for many years, the Panthers will open their season by hosting the Powell Invitational. Twenty-two teams will compete in varsity and junior varsity divisions at the Panther gym. Tribune photo by Don Amend Seven state medalists returningThe Powell Panthers take to the wrestling mat this weekend in a quest to win back the top spot in Wyoming 3A wrestling.Thirty-five wrestlers are working out in the practice room and will wrestle this week as the Panthers host their own invitational, the traditional opening competition of the season, and PHS head coach Nate Urbach is upbeat about his team's prospects.

“We should be very competitive,” Urbach said.

Seven medalists are back from the team that finished second by a whisker last year, including two reigning state champions, one former champ who had to settle for third last year and two state runner-ups.

Aiming to repeat as champions are Colt Nix and Randy Andrews. Senior Nix took the crown at 130 last year after finishing as runnerup his sophomore year, and will begin the season at 145. Last year's champion at 140, Andrews, a junior, will jump several weights this year, opening this weekend at 171.

Working to step up a notch to the gold bracket this year are Jessee Craig, who lost in overtime in last year's final at 119 and Jimmy Seckman, who finished second at 152. Craig will begin the season at 125, and Seckman will again contend at 152.

Olie Olson, who won the 112 pound championship as a freshman and finished third behind two defending state champions last year at 125, will make a big jump this year when he opens this weekend at 160. Other third place medalists from last year are Waylon Bays, who will return at 152 and Robert Friday, who will begin the season at 119.

Urbach's projected lineup this year also includes several wrestlers who placed in the top four in the regional tournament last year, including heavyweight Trevor Griffeth, a regional champ, second-place finisher Luke Wozney at 130, third-place finisher Beau Williams at 185 and fourth-place finisher Dylan Rood at 112.

Charles Wittick at 103, Brandon Phister at 135 and Kurt Bullinger at 215 are also projected to fill varsity slots, although Phister, a freshman, will be wrestling in the JV division this week.

As always in wrestling, though, weights may change during the season and challenges may change the lineup. Drew Feller (152) Clay Saldana (152), Mike Mundy (160), Danny Harris (171) and Fabio Soto (189) will all test their skills at the varsity level this weekend and could challenge for varsity slots down the road.

Joining Phister in the JV division this weekend are 112 pounders Grant Nickles, Tristan Nicholson, Skyler Erickson, Colbee Craig and Matt Widdicome. Jared Wantulock (130), Travis Willis (135), Ryan King (140), Duane Schwahn (145), Nathan McDonald (145), Tyler Patterson (152), Anthony Lujan (152), Zach Thompson (160) and Erik Denney (215) will also wrestle in the JV division.

The competition will be tougher this year, according to Urbach, with both defending champion Douglas and third-place finisher Worland returning considerable strength.

“Douglas will still be tough and Worland is loaded,” Urbach said. “Lander will be strong, too.”

Torrington should also be in the mix, Urbach said.

This week's opener will be a good test for the Panthers, with 21 teams contending in the Panther gym, including 3A rivals Worland, Lander, Rawlins, Cody and Thermopolis. Gillette, Sheridan and both Casper schools will represent the 4A ranks and seven 2A schools, including defending 2A champion Greybull/Riverside, will be competing.

Colstrip, Hardin, Columbus and Livingston will be down from Montana for the competition as well.