When you take over as a new head coach, it’s nice to have a solid foundation to build on. For new Lovell wrestling coach Daniel Robertson, eight returning state placers, including two defending state champions, is the perfect foundation upon which to build.
The Bulldogs, in coach Dane Mickelson’s final season at the helm, finished third at State a year ago behind champion Cokeville and second-place Greybull/Riverside. The Bulldogs lost 189-pound third-place finisher Darren Ballard to graduation, but eight others return, led by defending champs Preston Blankenship and Mark Grant.
“We should be in the top three again,” Robertson said. “We should get a trophy again, probably even a better one than last year.”
Blankenship breezed to the title at 112 pounds last year, and Grant did the same at 215. Both are seniors this season and are penciled in at 113 and 195 pounds, respectively, Robertson said, under the new weight classifications adopted by the Wyoming High School Activities Association.
Robertson had 21 out for the team as of Monday and said the final roster should be finalized this week. He said he is enjoying giving the already strong program some new direction.
“It has gone quite well,” Robertson said of early-season practices. “I changed a ton of stuff from what they’re used to and they’re taking it pretty well.”
Robertson said he has moved from normal “straight-up” conditioning such as lots of steady running to short bursts of high-intensity drills as part of a highly-structured practice plan. He said a typical practice begins with a “dynamic” warm-up, then moves to reviewing moves via specific drills. There is no live wrestling until late in the practice.
Other returning state placers are senior Tony Rodriguez, who placed second at 160 pounds a year ago and is penciled in at 170 this year; junior Jacob Beck, third at 145 and working at 152; junior Dino Collins, fourth at 171 and working at 182; senior Adam Beck, fourth at 135 and working at 138; senior Brigham Hopkin, fifth at 152 and perhaps moving to 170; and senior Dimas Patina, sixth at 140 and looking at 145 this season.
Also earning a trip to State and returning to the lineup this season are senior Jesse Bassett, working at 132 pounds; sophomore Hyrum Hopkin, 132; and junior Jacob Asay, heavyweight.
Blankenship will miss the first part of the season, as will Brigham Hopkin, who is nursing a leg injury suffered during football.
Also out for the team are senior Damian Smith, 120 pounds; senior Eli Moody, 220 (injured in 2010-11); junior Nathan Grant, 138; junior Nathan Ballard, 152; freshman Tristen Snyder, 106; freshman Trey Smith, 106; freshman Jaccob Mickelson, 113; freshman Johnathan Mickelson, 138; freshman Daniel Strom, 145; and freshman Zeke Collins, 152.
“Having eight returning state placers is not a bad way to start the season,” Robertson said, noting that all eight will be team captains this season.
He said he is still deciding on which athletes will wrestle varsity and which ones will compete in the junior varsity bracket at the Powell Invitational Tournament this Friday and Saturday. He added that the meet will take the form of an evaluation process to “see if what I’m doing works.”
Jacob Bassett has been hired as Robertson’s assistant, and Skye Mickelson is volunteering in the wrestling room.”
The Bulldogs will open the season Friday and Saturday at the Powell Invitational. Action begins with pool wrestling Friday at noon. Wrestling resumes Saturday at 9 a.m.
Teams invited include Cody, Colstrip, Columbus, Dubois, Gillette, Greybull/Riverside, Hardin, Kelly Walsh, Lander, Livingston, Lovell, Midwest, Natrona County, Powell, Rawlins, Rocky Mountain, Sheridan, Shoshoni, Thermopolis, Wind River and Worland.
By David Peck