Puncher wrestlers prove tenacious at Ron Thon Tourney

Chrissy Sanchez photo Senior Esther Van Grol takes down her opponent from Shoshoni at the Ron Thon Tournament on Jan. 27-28. Van Grol placed sixth in her bracket.

RIVERTON – Despite the winter weather, more than 30 wrestling teams representing all classifications from across Wyoming assembled for the largest meet of the regular season, the Ron Thon Tournament in Riverton, on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 27-28.

The Punchers traveled to Riverton in the wake of a tough loss to Pinedale on Tuesday, Jan. 24.

“This was the most challenging week of the season for us,” said Head Coach Cole Clifford. “The Pinedale team outworked us and controlled almost every match. It was a good wake-up call for us.We went back to the basics and got refocused on what we need to do to wrestle our best.”

Ron Thon consisted of two “grueling days” of bracket-style competition, said Clifford. The coaching staff worried about the team following the Pinedale duel and a small roster due to injuries and illnesses.

All concerns were put aside at Riverton as the Punchers rose to the occasion. The boys’ varsity team tallied 17 wins to 16 losses against opponents from teams varying in size from Cokeville to Thunder Basin High School in Gillette.

The Big Piney boys placed 20th overall with 44 points.

The Lady Puncher girls’ varsity team fielded only five wrestlers in a competitive pool with significantly larger squads. The Big Piney girls came in 31st place.

Coach Clifford was pleased with both the girls’ and boys’ performances at Ron Thon.

“We worked on aggressive hand-fighting and attacking our opponents,” he said. “We focused on forward pressure and controlling our wrists to keep our opponents from breaking down. We worked on basic pinning combinations. We saw all of those positives this week in Riverton against some of the best competition in the state.”

Ron Thon girls’ tournament

Senior Esther Van Grol battled through the 170-pound weight division and made it to the finals on Saturday, bagging sixth place.

“The girls’ division was a preview for State,” said Coach Clifford. “Esther just kept learning in each match and lost a very tight overtime match in which she came back from behind to tie up at the end of the period. Each girl on the team keeps improving each day.”

Ron Thon boys’ tournament

Sophomore Dominic Sanchez captured fourth place in the 113-pound bracket. He defeated Brodie Dean of Cokeville by a 12-2 major decision in the quarterfinals. After falling in the semifinals, Sanchez scored a 10-1 major decision win against Sheridan’s River Osborne in the consolation semifinals.

“Dominic had a strong week going 4-2,” said Clifford. “He was very strong on his feet and wrestled well all weekend.”

Senior Brandon Jones (160 pounds) and junior Jackie Meador (113 pounds) both advanced to the second day of competition.

“Making it to the second day is a huge feat in its own right,” said Clifford. “Jackie started slow, but got better as the meet moved forward. Brandon just keeps getting better each day. I love how his leadership and confidence in himself have grown.”

Senior Braunsn Smith, at 152 pounds, also proceeded to Saturday’s rounds and tallied 7 points for the Punchers.

“I feel the most improved wrestler this week in the varsity division was Braunsn,” said Clifford. “He was fantastic. He really wrestled under control and fought in each match, going 2-2 on the week.”

Senior Thomas Howard scored 7 team points and junior Zack Murphy contributed 5 points.

Ron Thon junior varsity

The Big Piney junior varsity team made an impressive showing in Riverton, placing 13th with 86 points.

Sophomore Caden Clifford bagged third place in the 145-pound division.

“Caden had a great week of wrestling,” said Coach Clifford. “His double was very impressive and strong, allowing him to go 6-1 and score the first points in each of his seven matches.”

Freshman Zef Zuniga snagged fourth place at 220 pounds.

“Zef was vastly improved on bottom this week,” said Clifford. “Getting off bottom is tough for a freshman to learn, but he is progressing very nicely in that area.”

In the 120-pound bracket, freshman Nate Brown earned sixth place.

“It has been good to see Nate’s confidence grow over the last two weeks,” Clifford remarked.

Sophomore Travis Reed secured sixth place in the 285-pound division.

“Travis had a huge win this week over a previous opponent who beat him earlier in the year,” said Clifford.

Big Piney hosts the Bridgerland Invitational on Friday, Feb. 3. Wrestling rounds begin at 10 a.m. in the Puncher Gym.