Young wrestlers hold key for G-R

by nathan oster

For Greybull-Riverside, never has the old adage, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” seemed more appropriate.

With just two seniors and four returning lettermen, the Buffs will be young this year, but Coach Mark Sanford isn’t using that as an excuse.  In fact, he said the team’s goal for this season is the same as it was last year … and every year before that.  Come late February, the Buffs want to be among the teams fighting for the 2A title.

“Absolutely, we can be a factor,” said Sanford.

The Buffs begin the season in a difficult position, in one respect.

Three wrestlers who would have been big contributors this season are injured and not expected to return.  The list includes Chris Ogg, who recently had knee surgery; and a pair of seniors in Rob Nuttall and Dylan Brenner.  Nuttall injured his ankle during football, while Brenner was unable to even participate due to a neck injury.

Put those three in the lineup … and the Buffs would really be in business.

Without them, the Buffs have a mix of experience, some promising newcomers and some raw talents.

Luke Zeller is a good wrestler to build around.  The only senior on the team last year, Zeller captured the 152-pound title in 2A last year. “Obviously he’s an accomplished wrestler,” said Sanford. “But he still have several tough kids in his weight class. In fact, the top three in his weight class last year were all juniors.”

Jake Jones of Rocky Mountain and Nathan Grant of Lovell were the others.

By year’s end, Sanford predicted that Zeller could be at 160.

The only other senior on the team is Herme Mendez.  He wrestled as a sophomore, but not last year. Sanford said he’s “looking a lot more aggressive” than he did two seasons ago and should provide depth in the upper weight divisions.

The seven-member junior class forms the nucleus of this year’s team.

Kyler Flock, a transfer from Upton, “should be a benefit to us right away,” said Sanford, noting that he’ll likely start the year at 120 pounds.  ”

Matt Brown has rejoined the team after swimming with Worland last year.  Sanford said he sees Brown fitting in at 182.

Spencer Redland is a returning state placer for G-R, capturing fourth last year as a sophomore.  “We’re looking for good things from him,” said Sanford. “He’s at 195 right now … we’ll see  if he stays there.”

Zane Edeler is another returning state placer.  Last year as a sophomore, he capture second place in his weight class. He’ll likely give it a go this year at 220.

Tanner Bernstein joined the team this year after playing basketball for Riverside as a freshman and a sophomore.  While he lacks high school experience, he was on the team in middle school and in the USA program. He’ll be in the upper weights.

Jesus Burgos didn’t place at state, which was a disappointment, but gained valuable experience last year, said Sanford. “We’re hoping that he puts himself in that position again and takes the next step this year.”

Jared Johnson rounds out the class. He’s never wrestled before, but is “a hard worker.  Hopefully the learning curve goes quickly. I’m excited to see how he progresses,” said Sanford.

The Buffs have only two sophomores in Oscar Gomez and Luke  Young.  Young, who attends Riverside, is “a big kid” likely to wrestle at 182 or 195.  He does have past experience as a middle school wrestler.

Gomez, who placed in the shot put last year as a freshman, will likely be the team’s heavyweight. He played basketball last year, but joined the mat team soon after that season ended and did get some work in during the offseason.  “For him, it’ll just be a matter of getting mat time,” said Sanford.

The freshman class of wrestlers includes Tristian McMillan, Brad Johnson, Luis Burgos, Marshall Gibbs, Colton Davis, Anthony Ebert and Cole Hill.   As a group, they have good potential, Sanford said.

Hill is the most accomplished wrestler of the bunch, having competed in “some pretty big matches” already in his young career, first as a USA wrestler, then as a member of the Greybull-Cloud Peak squad.

McMillan, who should go around 130, wrestled in the USA program.

Johnson has never wrestled before but shows promise.

As does Burgos.  A “scrapper,” he could start the year at 113.  By season’s end, he could find himself in that difficult-to-fill 106-pound class.

Gibbs didn’t wrestle in middle school, but was on the USA mat squad and is “working hard” so far in camp.

Davis and Ebert both attend Riverside.  According to Sanford, Davis is “a tall 120-pounder,” while Ebert is “a hard worker” who did gain some wrestling experience in middle school. He’ll settle in somewhere between 145 and 152.

Add it all together … and what do you have?

Sanford believes the Buffs could be a contender.

“But it’s going to depend on our young and inexperienced kids — and how well they can move up the ladder,” said Sanford. “The four returning letter winners we do have — in Luke, Spencer, Zane and Jesus — are a good foundation. And we have some others who have wrestled in the past. But it’s all going to come down to our young kids.”

As for that team goal, Sanford said, “We hope to vie for a title every year … that’s our hope anyway.” Heading into the season, Moorcroft appears to be the team to beat, with Cokeville right on its heels.  Thermopolis and Lovell will also be in the mix.

G-R will face Worland, a 3A power, today (Thursday, Nov. 29) at the Riverside High School gym, starting at 6 p.m.  The Warriors were loaded with sophomores last year and figure to be among the top contenders for the 3A crown this year. Friday and Saturday the Buffs travel to Powell for what it typically one of their tougher tests of the season, with several 3A and 4A squads in attendance.