One step remains

Posted 2/26/09

The Panthers, who finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in the Class 3A standings, will enter this year's state tournament as the clear favorite to win the championship. However, PHS head coach Nate Urbach said there are plenty of teams ready and …

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One step remains


{gallery}02_26_09/coltnix{/gallery} Colt Nix (top) was one of nine Panthers who claimed a first-place finish at last week's Class 3A West Regional Tournament in Cody. Nix, a sophomore, now is taking aim at a state title in the 125-pound weight class. Tribune photo by Don Amend Panther wrestlers take aim at repeat titleThe 2008-09 wrestling season will culminate this week at the Casper Events Center Friday and Saturday, and when it does, the Powell High School Panthers are hoping to add yet another state championship trophy to the display case at PHS.

The Panthers, who finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in the Class 3A standings, will enter this year's state tournament as the clear favorite to win the championship. However, PHS head coach Nate Urbach said there are plenty of teams ready and waiting to spoil the Panthers' bid for a repeat of last season's state championship effort.

Among the teams expected to stand in the way of PHS at the two-day tournament are second-ranked Douglas, third-ranked Wheatland, fourth-ranked Lander and fifth-ranked Worland. The Panthers have faced all of those teams in dual meets this season, and in each of those matchups, the Panthers came out on top. The Panthers also have fared well against wrestlers from those teams in tournament action.

“I feel really good about where we are as a team,” Urbach said. “The kids are pretty well focused, and we're just worrying about the things we can control. We're sitting in a good position going in, but we know teams are going to be shooting for us. There will be plenty of strong teams and individual wrestlers at state, and we have to be ready for them.

“One of my biggest fears is overlooking people. That's why we make sure we take things one step at a time. We can't get ahead of ourselves. This group has been really good at using that approach this season.”

As part of the preparation for the state tournament, Urbach said he's shared a number of thoughts with his team. One of the main pieces of advice he's offered is simple — leave it all on the mat.

“For us to be successful this week, our kids have got to do whatever it takes to perform as well as they possibly can,” Urbach said. “When I say that, I'm not talking about wins and losses. I just want them to be able to leave there without any regrets. I want them to have used every ounce of energy and effort they have in them. If they do that, we'll be fine.”

Overall, the Panthers will have 20 wrestlers in the state tournament this year. That large number of qualifiers became a reality last weekend during PHS's record-setting performance at the Class 3A West Regional Tournament in Cody.

During that event, nine Panthers earned the distinction of being called West Regional champions. As a team, PHS finished first in the standings after posting a score of 272.5 points, which was a school record. Prior to last week, PHS's best point total in a regional was 251 points, a feat they accomplished during the 2007-08 slate.

But winning a state title is a totally different task when compared to earning a championship at the regional level.

“We felt like we did what we needed to do last week,” said Panther junior Joe Lujan. “We had a lot of confidence going in, and we had a great team effort. But we know state will be a lot harder. We all know we're in for a dogfight. Anything can happen at state, so we aren't taking anything for granted. We have to wrestle well as a team, and everybody wants to do their best because that's what it will take.”

Lujan, who wrestles at 171, believes the Panthers have done well this season when it comes to their approach. He said the team has maintained a good level of confidence without overlooking other teams or wrestlers. He also noted that the Panthers believe their work ethic has put them in a position to rise above the rest of the competition.

“We all put a lot of heart and dedication into this sport,” Lujan said. “We work hard, and because of that, we expect to win.”

Earlier in the season, Urbach noted that one of his main goals is to prepare his wrestlers to the point where they feel they have outworked their competition. That, Urbach said, helps a great deal when it comes to dealing with the pressure that comes along with success and high expectations. But no matter how prepared a team is, there will still be wrestlers battling cases of butterflies in their stomachs at the state tournament.

Randy Andrews, a PHS freshman who is ranked No. 3 at 130, admits he's one of those wrestlers. Considering his freshman status and the big stage looming in Casper this week, it's understandable that he might be a little on the edge by the time Friday rolls around.

“I was nervous going into the West Regional,” Andrews said. “I went in wanting to finish first, but I was scared that I was going to lose. But I got through it. It'll probably be the same this week.”

Andrews, despite the nervousness he felt last week, won his weight division at the West Regional. He will enter the state meet sporting a 31-7 record.

Speaking of records, the Panthers two top-ranked wrestlers in the 3A standings will be looking to add to their impressive season marks this week. Trevor Donarski, who wrestles at 152, has amassed a 44-1 record since December. He also will be looking to cap his senior year with a second individual state title.

Auston Carter, ranked No. 1 at 140, will be attempting to build on his 42-5 record. The junior also will be aiming at his third individual state title this week. So far, only three Panthers have earned that distinction in the program's history.

“I'm just trying not to think about it too much,” Carter said. “I know it's going to be tough because at state, we'll be going up against a lot of tough teams from the east side of the state. It'll be a lot tougher than it was last week (at the West Regional).”

The other Panthers who will compete in this week's state tournament in Casper, which begins at 9 a.m. Friday and Saturday, includes Ren Utter (103), Luke Wozney (103), Olie Olson (112), Colt Nix (125), Zach Thiel (125), Cory Eden (135), Clay Saldana (140), Cole Kary (145), Jimmy Seckman (145), Beau Williams (152), Cody Kalberer (160), Danny Harris (160), Monte Nickles (189), Kurt Bullinger (189), Tyler Showalter (215) and Trevor Griffeth (285).

Friday's action at the Casper Events Center will begin at 9 a.m. with the first round. From 1:30 to 5:30 p.m., the championship quarterfinals and first-round wrestlebacks will be conducted. The championship semifinals are slated to begin at 7 p.m.

On Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., second-round wrestlebacks, third-round wrestlebacks and the consolation semifinals will be held.

At 3:15 p.m., third- and fifth-place matches will be conducted. Championship matches will begin at 6:30 p.m.