by nathan oster
The best wrestlers in the state were in Riverton last weekend for the Ron Thon Memorial, a meet that annually gives wrestlers from small squads like Greybull-Riverside a chance to see how they stack up against their weight-class peers from the 3A and 4A ranks.
Gillette won the tournament, earning 264.5 points, followed by Cheyenne East with 195 and Powell with 161.5. The Panthers’ top rivals in 3A, Star Valley (121.5) and Douglas (112.5) rounded out the top five.
With just three wrestlers entered in the varsity, Greybull-Riverside finished well off that pace, landing in 24th with 26 points. That left them behind 2A foes Moorcroft (92 points), Cokeville (87), Lovell (87), Thermopolis (39.5) and Dubois (30).
Luke Zeller was the only G-R wrestler who placed, taking fourth at 160 pounds.
Zeller, a senior, pinned his first two opponents before running into Rudy Batista of Riverton. When the two met at last year’s Ron Thon, Batista beat Zeller. But this year it was a different story, as Zeller notched a 6-4 overtime win.
That pushed him into the semifinals and a matchup with Brecken Biggs of Natrona County. Coach Mark Sanford said Zeller turned in a great performance against Biggs. Zeller was up 7-5 when Biggs, with five seconds to go in the second period, scored a point on an escape. Now down just one, Biggs tied the match at 7-7 with another escape in the third period, then put it away with a takedown and a near-fall. The final was 11-8, and while Zeller turned in a valiant effort, Sanford said he was kicking himself after the match for giving up the late escape and for making a technical mistake that led to the takedown and near-fall.
Zeller went on to beat Cade Noble of Cheyenne South to earn a spot in the third-place match. But in that contest, he fell 7-2 to his old rival, Nathan Grant of Lovell. Sanford said he didn’t think Zeller was where he needed to be mentally for the Grant matchup — and it cost him.
“But fourth place, at that tournament, is great,” Sanford said, adding that Zeller was seeded sixth going in. “It was a little disappointing because we thought we should have been in there for first and second. We would have had a hard time beating (Lukas Poloncic of Gillette), but it would have been nice showing the world you’re one of the top two wrestlers (in your class) in the state of Wyoming.”
G-R’s other varsity entries were Jesus Burgos, who went 0-2 and did not place at 138, and Spencer Redland, who went 1-2 and did not place at 195.
Sanford said Burgos had a tough draw. His opener was against Alex LaCasse of Gillette, who entered as the No. 3 seed. LaCasse got the better of Burgos, pinning him at the 3:59 mark. “He was just a half step ahead of us on most of the stuff he ran,” Sanford said.
The loss dropped Burgos into the consolation round, where he lost to Lance Lucas of Wheatland 3-0. “We just couldn’t score on that kid,” Sanford said.
That was also a problem for Redland. His weekend began in nice fashion. After an opening round bye, Redland scored a 4-3 win over Kolton Hall of Newcastle, “a kid we hadn’t seen before, which was good.”
In the quarters, Redland faced Christian Robinson of Cheyenne East. It was a tight match, but Robinson eventually won it, 3-2. Redland then had to face Casey Savage of Riverton — and again, he dropped a tight decision, losing 3-1.
Sanford said that in all three matches, Redland wrestled with a lot of heart, but failed to capitalize on opportunities to score. Sanford said he wants Redland to “open things up a little bit” instead of wrestling so conservatively.
The rest of the team was entered in the junior varsity division, and while several wrestlers did go two and out, Sanford was encouraged by the efforts turned in by several team members.
Cole Hill had a bounce back weekend at 145, placing fifth. Hill won four matches and in two of them, against wrestlers from Wind River and Wright, he avenged losses from earlier this season — a big step for the freshman.
Anthony Eibert, at 152, went 2-2, with both of his wins coming by pin.
Matt Brown was a second-place finisher at 182. He won his first three matches to make the final, and included in that stretch was a big win over a Cokeville wrestler. But in the final, he lost 3-2. “Matt purposely didn’t buy a sweatshirt because he said he wanted to win one — and he came within one point of doing so,” said Sanford.
Rob Nuttall, in his first extensive action since returning from an injury, went 2-2 and did not place 170. “Not bad for Rob,” said Sanford. “It’s just good to have him on the mat again.
Tanner Bernstein captured third place at 195, with his only loss coming to the wrestler who went on to finish second. In the third-place matchup, he scored a major decision over a wrestler from Powell.
At 215, Zane Edeler won his first match 6-3, his second match by pin and his third match by pin (over a wrestler from Shoshoni who had had his number prior to that). He lost 8-5 in the final, but it was overall “a very good weekend” for Edeler, according to Sanford.
Those who went two-and-out included Marshall Gibbs, Ryan Peoples, Chase Peoples, Jarrod Johnson and Luke Young.
“Overall, it was a good effort for our team,” said Sanford. “The things that are beating us are things we can work on to improve. The bad thing is, when we get tired, we quit thinking about technique and fall into bad habits. We have to keep pushing each other to get where we want to be.”
The Buffs will wrap up the regular season tonight (Thursday, Feb. 7) with a dual in Basin against Cody.