A whisker. A nose. A hair…Pick your descriptive slang word…but whatever the case, the Lovell Bulldogs’ second-place finish to the Cokeville Panthers could hardly have been any closer.
Lovell placed second by a point and a half: 215-213½. Moorcroft was third with 164 points, Thermopolis fourth with 153 points, Greybull/Riverside fifth with 130.
Interviewed three days after the emotional finish, coach Daniel Robertson was disappointed but still proud.
“Part of me says most teams would just be thrilled to be where we were,” Robertson said. “The other part of me says: ‘This is when we decide to lose a tournament?’ I don’t count the (all-class) Ron Thon.
“We didn’t take care of our business off the mat. We had two guys qualify for State who didn’t get to go (due to academics) and one guy who didn’t make weight at Regionals (which put two Bulldogs at the same weight, with only one able to score under the rules).”
Robertson said there is no use assigning blame to a particular match result during the two-day tournament when any match any time could have made the difference.
“I know it’s a difference of one match or one pin, but you’re not going to get pins to roll over for you at State,” he said. “You can’t control them. We just didn’t control the things we can control. That’s usually the story when you have a favored team that doesn’t win.
“Cokeville is always the dark horse because they never wrestle anyone in Wyoming. You never know how they’re made up. Our guys for the most part did everything they possibly could do to win.”
The Bulldogs finished with 10 state placers and three individual champions led by junior Dino Collins, who captured the 182-pound title and finished the season at 33-0 – the only undefeated wrestler in Wyoming.
Also winning titles were senior Brigham Hopkin at 195 pounds and senior Mark Grant at 220. Senior Jesse Bassett placed second at 132 pounds, senior Tony Rodriguez placed second at 170, senior Adam Beck was third at 145, junior Nathan Grant third at 152, junior Jacob Beck third at 160, senior Preston Blankenship sixth at 120 and senior Dimas Patina sixth at 138.
Collins started the tournament with a seven-second pin against Gabriel Spoonhunter of Wyoming Indian High School.
“He’s the nicest kid ever. He picked that kid up and very gently placed him on the mat,” Robertson said.
Collins then pinned Jeff Skelton of Burns/Pine Bluffs in 55 seconds and crushed Ethan Archibald of Kemmerer 13-0. “That kid’s a strong boy,” Robertson said of Archibald.
In the finale Saturday night, Collins met Sterling Baker of Dubois yet again and pinned the tough sophomore in 1:24.
“We’ve wrestled him seven times,” Robertson said. “He (Baker) just ran out of plans. He tried every other way to beat him throughout the season. The kid is good, obviously, and he’s tried different methods.
“This time he just attacked him like a man possessed and Dino just stuck him.”
Collins is a rare, gifted wrestler, Robertson said.
“He’s a good athlete to begin with,” he said. “He’s really quick and really strong. He’s almost impossible to take down in the first place. He has a huge up side still. Dino has yet to unlock everything he can do.”
Hopkin finished his senior year in style, capping a season that saw him rebound from a leg injury suffered during football, find a spot at 195 pounds and finish the season strong.
He pinned Dakota Falk of Hanna-Elk Mountain in 1:14 and Kodey Lamont of Burns/Pine Bluffs in 24 seconds. He then edged Miles Galovich of Thermopolis 2-1 in the semifinals, which Robertson called “two really strong, really fast, undersized guys going after it.”
Hopkin met Cody Flynn of Dubois in the finals and beat him 4-3, leading 3-0 after the second period, getting tied up 3-3 in the third and then escaping in the waning moments of the match to win.
“It’s always a tough match with Cody, but he (Hopkin) has never lost to him,” Robertson said. “Brigham is a surprise that isn’t a surprise. Everyone looks at him and can see that he hasn’t wrestled for most of the year and is 25 pounds lighter than everyone else, but they know he’s going to win. They have a shot, but they have a sneaking suspicion he’s going to win.”
Asked about Hopkin’s strength, Robertson replied, “He’s a freak. He’s got working man’s strength on him, and he’s a lot faster.
“The hardest part of winning State for Brigham was wrestling varsity on his own team. Eli (Moody) is technically the varsity guy at 195. Brigham started at 160 and had to find a place on his own team where he could wrestle. It worked out quite well.”
Senior Mark Grant won his second consecutive state title, capturing the 220-pound title with a 4-0 record. Grant pinned Jeff Bennett of Thermopolis in 40 seconds, pinned Logan Wilson of Wright in 1:26, stuck Wyatt Fig Houston of Hanna-Elk Mountain in 5:33 and pinned Zane Edeler of G/R in 1:59 Saturday night.
Like Hopkin, Grant has been battling back from an injury, a dislocated elbow he injured during the opening tournament of the season in Powell. Grant only lost two matches this season: the match during which he was injured – by injury default – and a match at the Ron Thon Invitational in Riverton to 3A champion Brodie Schneider of Lander.
“He’s a 220-pounder who is a kick returner in football,” Robertson said. “He’s a good athlete, really strong, big and way faster than your guy. He’s a two-time state champion, which is pretty dang sweet.”
Senior Jesse Bassett had an excellent tournament and came close to a title at 132 pounds, Robertson said. Bassett pinned Tyrel Toomer of Cokeville in 3:31, beat Toby Reynolds of Moorcroft 8-6 and edged Juan Jesus Martinez of Wright 3-2 in the semifinals.
In Saturday’s championship match, Bassett met tough Brigham Teichert of Cokeville and fell 5-1.
“Jesse had to beat a lot of quality wrestlers to get where he got,” Robertson said. “Teichert is a tough kid, and the kid Jesse beat in the semifinals might be even tougher. Those two both had a tough run to get to the finals. The lights (nervousness) might have gotten to Jesse a little bit.”
Bassett had pinned Teichert during the Regional Tournament in Shoshoni the previous Saturday.
“It was sad for him (to lose) but not completely unexpected that Teichert would come back to beat him this time,” Robertson said. “Jesse did a good job, that’s all there is to it.
“132 is an incredibly tough weight. There were records in the quarterfinals like 21-6, 30-7, 22-13, 35-10, 22-20, 28-19, 27-10 and 36-9. It was a tough road just to get to the finals.”
Senior Tony Rodriguez received an opening-round bye at 170 pounds, then pinned Travis Jinks of Southeast in 3:02 and crushed Spencer Redland of G/R 10-1 in the semifinals. Rodriguez fell to Jordan Johnson of Cokeville in the championship match, 7-2.
“The kid just stalled on the bottom,” Robertson said of the finale. “Cokeville stalled all the way through the finals. I hate it. Tony had to try and do something, because the kid wasn’t moving.
“Tony was in the finals last year, but he has gotten significantly better. He had a great season (26-7). He’s a stud. He’s a very steady wrestler. He was almost never in trouble. He was a pleasure to coach.”
Senior Adam Beck finished his career in style. He pinned teammate Daniel Strom in 3:03 and stuck Cameron Braden of Moorcroft in 4:29. He fell to eventual champion Blake Mastrud of Kemmerer, 11-4, then rebounded to pin Kodiak French of Wright in 3:32 and defeat Corson Kerbs of Saratoga 6-2 for third.
“His third-place match was against a kid (Kerbs) who murdered him earlier in the season,” Robertson said. “He wrestled out of his mind. He gave that Saratoga kid all he wanted. It was really awesome.”
Junior Nathan Grant placed third at 152 pounds. He stopped teammate Zeke Collins in 4:15, stuck Kaleb O’Connor of Burns/Pine Bluffs in 52 seconds and fell to Jake Jones of Rocky Mountain 12-3. He rebounded to pin Preston Neiman in 1:57 and Bronson Teichert of Cokeville in 4:11.
“Jake had a game plan we hadn’t seen,” Robertson said. “Everyone is so even at 152, and they are all good at different things. There are some wrestlers we match up well against and some we don’t. We knew going in it was a four-horse race. I loved watching him pin Teichert.”
Junior Jacob Beck, wrestling at 160, pinned Martin Fitzwater of Saratoga in 3:59, crushed Albert Lenerville of Sundance 12-0, then ran into nemesis Nathan Hetzel of G/R and fell 11-10. He came back to pin Daniel Magana of Wright in 2:37 and crush Justin Rickert of Kemmerer 16-1 to take third.
“He had a spectacular tournament and a great season (28-9),” Robertson said. “It was a three-horse race. (Chris) Ryan (of Thermopolis), Hetzel and Beck are one, two, three. We’re glad to get him back (next season). You’re not going to find people who work harder than Jacob Beck, or anyone who is any tougher, either.”
Two wrestlers placed sixth for the Bulldogs at State. Senior Preston Blankenship went 3-3 at 120 pounds, pinning Mark Ballou of Shoshoni in 37 seconds, falling 13-2 to Zane Lewis of Wright, pinning Danny Huxtable of Shoshoni in 4:02, beating Tanner Commerer of Big Piney 6-4, falling via a pin in 2:34 to Matt Grovenstein of Greybull/Riverside and falling 10-8 in overtime to Choc Maddock of Thermopolis.
Senior Dimas Patina also concluded his career with a 3-3 mark at State. Patina beat Cody Shinost of Thermop 8-4, dropped a 9-4 decision to Anthony Samson of Saratoga, pinned Jake McAdams of Big Piney in 49 seconds and Dylan Lookingbill of Wind River in 29 seconds, fell to Bonner Brown of Big Piney 6-2 and fell to Marty Thoman of Wind River 3-2 in overtime.
Other Lovell results included:
106 – Freshman Trey Smith was 1-2, pinning Tabitha Mabe of Hanna-Elk Mountain in 2:04.
120 – Freshman Jaccob Mickelson went 0-2.
145 – Freshman Daniel Strom went 0-2.
152 – Freshman Zeke Collins went 1-2, winning one match by default.
195 – Senior Eli Moody went 1-2, pinning Dakota Falk of Hanna-Elk Mountain in 1:40.
285 – Junior Jacob Asay went 0-2.
Two Lovell wrestlers have received academic awards for their performance in the classroom as well as on the mat.
Mark Grant and Dino Collins were named Academic All-State wrestlers by WyoWrestling.com. A wrestler must place first through sixth at the state tournament and have the highest grade point average for his weight class in all three classifications: 2A through 4A.
Collins was named All-Star All-State and All-Academic for his overall wrestling and academic achievement throughout the season, and Grant was named All-Academic for his high GPA at his weight class.
The awards are provided through donations from companies and wrestling families. For more information, go to www.wyowrestling.com.
By David Peck