CASPER – The Puncher wrestling team fielded 11 athletes at the 2A State Wrestling Championships in Casper on Thursday, Feb. 25. Big Piney took 14th place and had three wrestlers place in the top six.
“I feel that this was a great accomplishment for our young team,” said head coach Cole Clifford. “At State, I felt that we did a great job and finished with our best wrestling of the year. Out of the 11, seven have never qualified for State before. Every wrestler had their best meet at State.”
Sophomore Thomas Howard finished second in the 195-pound weight class.
“Howard had an outstanding tournament,” said Clifford. “He pinned his first two opponents and then in the semifinals, he faced off against the No. 2-ranked wrestler from Lovell. Thomas got a big lead in the first period, putting his opponent on his back. The Lovell wrestler came storming back to tie up the match in the third period, 13-13, with 30 seconds left. Thomas was able to get a reversal with 15 seconds left in the match to earn a close fought victory.
“That placed Thomas in the finals against a three-time State Champion. Thomas fought well and earned All-State honors. It was just an amazing tournament for Thomas.”
Senior Braxton Smith placed fourth in the 152-pound division.
“Braxton went out on a high note his senior year,” Clifford added. “He lost his first match to a Cokeville wrestler. But he set his mind that he was going to come all the way back and place. He pinned the Southeast Quadrant Champion and then pinned the Northeast Quadrant Champion and his third opponent from Moorcroft. That earned him a medal. Lo and behold, it was a rematch from his first match and Braxton got revenge this time.”
Sophomore Brandon Jones took fifth place in the 145-pound weight class.
“Brandon peaked at the right time,” said coach Clifford. “We knew that conditioning would be a question at State since no one wrestled more than three matches in one day this year. But Brandon’s strength is his conditioning.
“He started off the tournament defeating the Northeast Quadrant Champion out of Tongue River. Then he earned a close fought victory over a Cokeville wrestler who we have not beat this year.”
Coach Clifford praised the efforts of the wrestlers that came in just short of the top six.
“Bradley Rodda set the tone for us,” he said. “He went out and showed attitude, perseverance and effort. He got the team fired up and ready to wrestle. Jackie Meador had a solid first visit to State. I love his motor and how he just attacks his opponents.
“David Farrington earned a tight win at State as well. Zach Murphy got on the mat and got some valuable experience that will set him up for years to come. Wiley Smith had an outstanding regional tournament and that carried over to State. He improved so much in just the last two weeks.
“Jaron Petty earned his first ever State win. He did a great job competing in all of his matches. Robert Hunt, who picked up wrestling this year, came away with a big win for the team. He was also very competitive against the larger opponents he faced. I appreciate how well Kael Visser wrestled. I love his attitude and drive.”
Coach Clifford gave a shoutout to the entire team’s effort during a challenging and different season.
“I am so proud of all the 17 wrestlers that I had this year,” he said. “To go through what they had to do was amazing.”