by nathan oster
Greybull-Riverside didn’t win a trophy, but Luke Zeller captured the 152-pound title and two seniors, Matt Grovenstein and Nathan Hetzel, notched the highest finish of their stellar careers at last weekend’s State 2A Wrestling Championships in the Casper Events Center.
Cokeville nipped Lovell by 1.5 points (215 to 213.5) to win the team title. It was the Panthers second straight 2A win — and sixth in the past seven years, with the only interruption of that span coming with G-R’s breakthrough win in 2010.
The Buffs went to Casper this year with a goal of placing in the top four, but came up a little short. Moorcroft landed in third with 164, followed in fourth by Thermopolis with 153. G-R came in fifth with 130 points.
“I knew for us to be in the trophies, we were going to need more than six guys place,” said Sanford. “We needed about eight. But even with the six, we were still right in the hunt. Thermop edged us out for the trophy…but give them credit for wrestling a good state tournament.”
The six Buffs who made semifinals were the only ones who went on to place.
In addition to Zeller’s win at 152, the Buffs got seconds from their other two finalists, Nathan Hetzel, who lost to Thermopolis’ Chris Ryan at 160, and sophomore Zane Edeler, who fell to Lovell’s Mark Grant at 220. Grovenstein wrestled to a third at 120, Spencer Redland captured fourth at 170 and Kyle Strasheim earned sixth at 113 for the Buffs.
Zeller may have had the toughest road, too. The junior was in a class with three other standouts in Lovell’s Nathan Grant (winner of the prestigious Ron Thon), Rocky Mountain’s Jake Jones (a two-time state finalist, he lost to G-R’s Nathan Gossens last season) and Bronson Teichert (the reigning 152-pound champion).
As expected, those four made Friday’s semifinals. On one mat, Jones beat Grant. On the other, Zeller notched a 6-4 win over Teichert to set up the final. Zeller was up 4-2 in the third when he scored a takedown to go up four. That was the key moment of the match, according to Sanford.
With the win, Zeller advanced to face Jones, a wrestler he had beat twice previously. Their third encounter may have been their tightest. Jones scored on an escape. Then Zeller did the same. It was 1-1 in the third when the ref called Jones for stalling, giving Zeller the 2-1 lead which he held until the end.
“Luke wrestled really smart,” said Sanford. “He kept pressuring and pressuring, constantly moving forward and keeping (Jones) on his heels so he couldn’t get an opportunity to set up what he can do.”
Zeller finished with a 33-6 record.
For Hetzel, it was a breakthrough weekend. Three times previously he had made semifinals — and each time, he lost. This time, in his final go as a senior, he got over the hump, beating his old nemesis, Lovell’s Jacob Beck, 11-10, to advance to the big stage.
Sanford said Hetzel was concerned going into the match because Beck had been narrowing the gap in recent bouts. Sanford, too, admitted being worried, especially after Beck came out and scored the first points.
But Hetzel proved too much. With the match tied 9-9, he scored a decisive takedown to advance to the final. In it, he had to face Chris Ryan, “a real quality wrestler.” While there were a couple of missed opportunities to “make something happen,” Sanford lauded his young grappler. After the two butted heads late, Hetzel waved him off, saying he wanted to continue. And he did. He just couldn’t get going, losing 11-0 to finish at 28-8.
“He had such a great career here,” Sanford said. “He was such a hard worker. I am very proud of what he accomplished. He was a four time state placer. And this year he was in a tough weight class. I can’t say enough about him.”
Edeler set himself up for success by wrestling well at the regional tournament. In Casper, he was dominant his first three times out, winning each time by pin. One of them came in less than a minute.
But in the finals, he had to face Grant, a reigning state champion. Sanford told Edeler before the match he had “nothing to lose” and that he needed to make something happen. Edeler tried, taking a shot after he blocked a Grant move, but just couldn’t get it tight enough. Grant eventually won the match by pin in 1:59.
But Edeler established himself as a future threat, winning three of his four at state to finish 22-16. “He just did an outstanding job,” Sanford said. “I think he realized some things about himself through the season. I don’t think he knew he could do this. When he moved into that weight class, he started realizing he could be successful and took off from there. He made big strides for us.”
Unlike Edeler, Grovenstein’s cause was hurt by what happened at regionals, when he was nipped in the final, which meant he would be on the same side of the bracket as Moorcroft’s Luke Lovett.
So instead of meeting in the final, the two met in Friday’s semis, and as he had done previously, Lovett won out, doing so by pin in 3:51 to end Grovenstein’s title bid. But the senior finished strong, winning his last two matches by fall to place third and finish 23-8.
In fact, all four of Grovenstein’s state wins came by pin.
“Matt deserved to be all-state,” Sanford said. “In my opinion, he was the second-best kid in the weight … we just didn’t get ‘er done at regionals. But he finished on a good note as a senior. Through his career, I watched him grow and how hard he worked, both physically and mentally. He was a real joy to coach.”
Redland went 3-2 at 170 pounds, with a big win over Dubois’ Jesse Hawk to go along with losses to Lovell’s Tony Rodriguez (10-1 in the semis) and Wyatt Somsen of Southeast (in the third-place match).
Sanford emphasized the win over Hawk. The two had split their four previous meetings. In Casper, Redland won the rubber match, 3-2. By weekend’s end, he was 17-10. “I was very pleased with Spencer’s progression throughout the season,” Sanford said. “He did an outstanding job for us.”
Strasheim’s sixth place finish at 113 gave the Buffs a nice boost. The win that gave him a shot to place was his pin of Thomas Garvie of Lingle-Fort Laramie, the No. 2 seed from the East, in the opening round. In that match, Strasheim trailed at one point 14-4, but “he kept moving, kept hustling, until he eventually got the pin,” Sanford said.
With that win, he advanced to the semifinals. Strasheim didn’t win again, losing three straight to finish sixth. His record ended at 14-22. “But I was really proud of how he finished the season,” said Sanford. “We needed him to place — and he did.”
No other Buffs placed. Several had especially tough draws that they could not overcome. In fact, four Buffs opened in matches against No. 1 seeds; a fifth G-R wrestler had to face a No. 2 seed in his opener.
Freshman Chris Ogg went 1-2 at 120 pounds, with his losses coming to the No. 2 and No. 3 wrestlers from the East in Tyrell Lawrance of Moorcroft and Jesse Bunner of Lusk. Ogg ended the season at 27-13. But with three years to go, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to redeem himself, Sanford said, adding, “He really wrestled well for us this season.”
Senior Levi Kelly went two-and-out at 132 to finish 12-16. “I was disappointed for Levi to go out that way,” Sanford said. “But he did a lot of good things for us. He was committed to doing what was best for the team. 132 was a tough weight class. It’s too bad he couldn’t have done better, but he had a good career for us.”
Jesus Burgos went 1-2 at 138. One of his losses was to the eventual champ in Cokeville’s Brock Teichert. The other was to Marty Thoman of Wind River, who also placed. Burgos finished 14-22, but Sanford saw great improvement. “I was really pleased with Jesus,” he said. “He’s just going to keep getting better and better.”
Senior Stephen Kerr was knocked out on a doorstep of placing, losing to Kodiak French of Wright. Had he won, he would have placed. Instead it went down as 2-2 weekend — and the end of a 20-16 campaign. One of his losses was to the eventual champ, Blake Mastrud of Kemmerer.
Sanford said Kerr was “a hard worker who pushed himself to be his best. I know he didn’t finish where he wanted to … but he gave good effort and was right there.”
Dylan Brenner won his opener by default, but then dropped two straight and bowed out at 182. He finished 11-16. Just a junior, Brenner is already strong enough to be successful, Sanford said. “He just needs to learn more technique. I’m hoping we can stay healthy next year and that he’ll put in the work during the offseason to improve.”
At 195, the Buffs could have used Gabe Villegas. But the state placer from a year ago went down to injury late in the year. To help the team, Rob Nuttall, normally a 170-pounder, offered to step in. He battled valiantly in Casper, evening winning a match by fall and taking his final foe, Brandon Shelstad of Moorcroft, the distance before losing 9-3. Nuttall’s final line for the year was 9-9.
“Rob wanted to try it, in the hopes of scoring some points for us,” Sanford said. “It wasn’t a bad effort by any means. Hopefully we’ll be able to split those two (Nuttall and Redland) up a little better next year.”
At 285, Trenton Kelly went two and out, losing both times by pin to finish at 13-19. But Sanford said he was glad to see him come out this season. “He should have been out all the way through from middle school on up to high school,” said Sanford. “He’d have been a different wrestler. But he still did a great job.”
As he looks ahead, Sanford acknowledges that the Buffs will miss their five seniors — Grovenstein, Kelly, Kerr, Hetzel and Kelly. But of that grouping, only two scored points in Casper. The rest were generated by kids who should return next year.
“The way our sophomores ended the year, and if our juniors can keep getting better, we’re going to be competitive again next year,” he said.