by nathan oster
Blood and tears were shed on the final day of the State 2A Wrestling Championships.
In the span of an hour, Greybull-Riverside experienced both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, as Luis Burgos capped a virtuoso performance with back-to-back pins of wrestlers who had beaten him earlier in the season to claim the 113-pound title, his first.
The Greybull senior, who several times during his career contemplated quitting the sport due to frequent migraines, injuries and other obstacles, got the storybook ending he sought. Cole Hill, however, did not. A four-time state placer and one of the most successful and consistent wrestlers in G-R history, Hill was cut above the eye early in his championship match with Saratoga’s Thatcher Spiering at 152 pounds. Several times, the match had to stopped so that the wound could be re-bandaged. The ultimate warrior, Hill kept the pressure on the defensive-minded Spiering through three periods, the first overtime and into the second before Spiering emerged victorious, 2-1, to claim the title.
There were more stories, just like these, at the state tournament, where Greybull-Riverside finished in a fourth-place tie with Lyman to earn a trophy. That had been one of its goals all season. For it to happen, it took quite a finishing kick. G-R sat in eighth place after a disappointing first day. Coach Mark Sanford’s team brought it on Saturday, though, ending up with a total of seven placers and 131 team points. They needed every one.
While well off the pace of Moorcroft, which again won the 2A title with 221.5 points, as well as Rocky Mountain (159.5) and Cokeville (153), G-R finished “about where I thought we would,” said Coach Mark Sanford. “We probably could have scored a few more points — not a lot, but a few — had a couple of things gone our way that didn’t.
“The second round was tough on us. I knew after that we’d have to battle. I was hoping we’d have three, maybe four in finals. We only ended up with two. But to come back the way we did, after being in eighth after the first day … it really showed the heart these guys have.”
No one brought more of it to the mat than Burgos. Rewind a week to the regional tournament. Burgos was up big on Cokeville’s Ammon Teichert when he made a mistake, got pinned and finished second.
Crushing at the time, the loss put him on the same side of the state bracket as Dylan Humes, winner of the Ron Thon and with it, the unofficial title as the top 113-pounder in Wyoming. Humes and Burgos faced off at the Greybull tournament. Humes won, but it was close, and that might have given Burgos the confidence he needed because when the two faced off in the semifinals, Burgos went right after him. A wild first period ended with the two tied at 5-5.
“It was a dogfight,” said Sanford.
Burgos went down to start the second period, got away, then scored a takedown to go up three. Humes escaped, trimming the lead to two, then knotted it with a reversal early in the third. The two were battling when “a picture perfect lateral drop” put Burgos in a position to score a pin. It came at the 4:50 mark.
The win sent Burgos to the final, and a rematch with Teichert. Sanford said the regional loss was a “devastating” one for Burgos — and that he was determined to not let it happen again. Burgos dominated the rematch, recording the pin in 1:35 to cap a sensational 33-3 season.
“He dealt with so much,” said Sanford. Burgos battled migraines, in particular during his freshman and sophomore seasons. As a junior, he missed part of the season because he was needed at home. He came out late, in time to qualify and compete at the state tournament. He took sixth, but more important, the strong finish was a springboard into his senior year.
“This year started differently, in that he was a killer bee, just out there taking care of business,” said Sanford. “But then he got sick again. He got migraines. He wasn’t able to go to Ron Thon or Moorcroft. He came back, but still lacked confidence. I told him he could be the best in the state, and he didn’t believe it. But he said if that was the case, he better start working harder. That was his mindset. We believed in him. Brant (Ogg, the assistant coach) was great with him and never doubted that he’d win.”
In many ways, Hill’s journey was the polar opposite. He was always on the mat, pushing himself and teammates, and ended his career as a four-time state placer. He was third as a freshman, fourth as a sophomore, and second as both a junior and a senior, losing both times in heartbreaking fashion.
His match with Spiering was one of the most hotly contested of the night. It was tied 1-1 after three periods and the first overtime. In double overtime, Hill won the toss and chose down. He tried the Granby Roll and it nearly backfired and resulted in a near-fall. Hill kept his composure, but was unable to escape. When Spiering went down, he did get away to take a 2-1 lead, then held off Hill the rest of the way to win.
“Cole took a risk, and that’s what you teach kids to do,” said Sanford. “You have to go for it, and he was going for it. When we beat him, we got a lead on him. That was the key and we knew it. Cole wrestled a smart match, and I was proud of him.”
Hill finished his career with a 132-40 record. His 132 wins ranked third in G-R history, just one behind Luke Zeller. The 760.5 team points he scored ranked sixth all time. He finished with 71 pins.
“He’s such a hard-working kid. He worked hard enough to earn a title. I know it was disappointing for him. We always talk about finishing. He feels like he didn’t, but what an incredible kid. I can’t overstate how important he was to this team. He was like having another coach. Without question, he was our team leader.”
Five others also placed for G-R, including Jorge Carmona (third at 120), Lane Nielsen (third at 182), Dawson McEwan (fifth at 160), Marshall Gibbs (sixth at 126) and Anthony Eibert (sixth at 170).
Carmona was one of those who lost in the second round and had to battle his way back to place. He strung together four wins in a row to finish with five wins and just a single loss in his final state tournament. “Jorge being in that third-place match was huge for us,” said Sanford. “He finished his senior year the way he wanted to. He wrestled for three years. Prior to that, he’d never seen wrestling before. He watched (Jesus Burgos) wrestle, became a student of the sport and really improved.”
The 126-pound weight class was loaded, and like always, Gibbs left everything on the mat, going 3-3. “I was nervous when we moved him there, because he was in the same weight class last year,” said Sanford. “You have to be pretty dedicated to do that.” Two of Gibbs’ three wins came by pin and he did contribute 11 points to the team cause. “Not the way he wanted to finish, but it was noble of him moving down. He placed for us, and we needed that. I cannot say enough about the work ethic that kid has.”
McEwan might have been the surprise of the tournament. A nonplacer at regionals, his reward was an opening round match against a No. 1 seed, Gavin Julander of Kemmerer. He lost, but proceeded to win four of his next five to capture fifth. In two of those, he avenged earlier defeats. “It was awesome to see him place,” said Sanford, adding that he hopes the win over Rick Nate of Cokeville in the fifth-place match gives McEwan motivation to take the next step next year.
Anthony Eibert opened on a high note, beating a Big Piney wrestler who had defeated him at regionals in the opening round. He lost his next one, falling to Reece Jolley Hulett, but then got on a roll in the wrestlebacks and qualified for the fifth-place match. Again, he faced Jolley, and again, he lost. “Taking sixth was good for him,” said Sanford. “We knew he could do it.”
Sanford said Eibert had a chance to make the third-place match, but lost a 6-5 decision in the consolation semifinals. “He wrestled a heck of a match,” said the coach. “That would have been a huge victory. Anthony has been through a lot of ups and downs in wrestling. It was great to see him come through and place.”
Nielsen entered the state tournament with a goal of capping his senior year with a state title, so when he lost in the second round to Brandyn Banville of Burns/Pine Bluffs, he was understandably devastated. The Greybull senior pulled himself together, though, and proceeded to win his next four, giving the team a huge boost in the process. His opponent in the third-place match was John Sullivan of Sundance. “Going in, I thought we’d face him and beat him in the semifinals,” said Sanford. Nielsen prevailed, 7-5. “Without him doing that, we don’t get a trophy.” Nielsen, who joined the team as a junior, placed both years at the state tourney.
For several others, the meet was a stepping stone, rather than a finish line.
Charles Ward went 0-2 at 120 pounds. “He improved so much this year,” said Sanford. The first G-R wrestle to get eliminated, he was greeted on the edge of the mat by several teammates who had come down from the stands to give him a hug. It continued the rest of the tournament.
“Toward the end of the season, I was struck by how well this team came together, how much they cared about each other,” said Sanford. “That’s the fun thing about wrestling. You get close when you sweat and bang on each other every day.”
Tre’ Nelson went 2-2 at 132 pounds, finishing one round out of placing. He, too, had to overcome a lot of adversity, just to compete at state. He dealt with injuries and illnesses, but improved as a wrestler.
Ryan Peoples, at 138, lost to the eventual champion in the opening round, won his second match and valiantly fended off a pin against a Lyman wrestler. In a tournament, every point counts. Had he not done that, Lyman would have finished ahead of G-R in the final standings.
Jovani Garay went two and out at 145, but “did a heck of a job for us this season,” said Sanford. “What a distance he came.” Garay was ousted with a 14-3 loss to a Southeast wrestler. “He never gave up the pin, which I appreciated.”
Jose Carmona didn’t place at 160, losing to the eventual champion, Tate Allison of Moorcroft, in the opening round. Carmona did rack up two wins however before getting ousted one win from the placing round. “Jose gives it everything he’s got and there’s nobody he’s afraid of,” said Sanford. “We moved him up, he qualilfed and placed at regionals. Whatever we ask him to do, he does it with a smile.”
Taven Pharris went 1-2 at state. “He improved a ton this year, and if he gets more physical and hits the weights, hopefully next year he’ll be in the placing round.”
Ames Tschiffely went 0-2 at 195 pounds. Just a freshman, he has tremendous potential, according to Sanford.
Dade Greene also went 0-2 at 220 pounds. The two wrestlers he faced as state were the same two wrestlers he faced at the regional. Just a freshman, he, too, stands to benefit from the experience he gained.
They’ll be the focus of future wrestling conversation. For now, it’s on the seniors.
“We are going to lose a lot of points,” said Sanford. “But this group was special. Saying goodbye was very hard for me this year. The things they had to overcome mentally … like Lane and Anthony and Cole … that’s why I coach, to watch kids face adversity, go through it and come out the other side better because of it.”