The Lovell High School wrestling team concluded the 2015-16 season with strong performances at the Class 3A State Wrestling Tournament in Casper including a state championship by senior Merrill Beck.
Lovell placed 12th in the 16-team 3A field with 76 points, just two points behind Newcastle/Upton, 5½ points behind Lander, nine points behind Wheatland and 13 points behind Cody.
“Overall we continued the progress we made throughout the year,” first-year head coach Nick DeWitt said, noting the team’s intensity level, determination and knowledge level, all of which improved throughout the season, he said.
“We had some guys who had been hit and miss but came through at the appropriate time and a couple of young guys who were not ready for that level of competition,” DeWitt added.
He noted the “great” performances of Beck, junior Joey Mickelson and senior Joey Bassett, noting, “There were things we hadn’t seen all year from them that we were able to bring to the table, and it showed.”
Beck (39-10) worked methodically through the competition to win the title at 170 pounds. The senior defeated Luke Anderson of Star Valley 8-1, Ethan Richins of Buffalo 6-1 and Alec Arnold of Glenrock 8-3 before edging Dylan Brog of Star Valley 3-2.
Asked what makes Beck successful, DeWitt replied, “his work ethic and just his desire for winning. He always wants to win. That’s what we really saw this weekend.
“It came down to the finals win,” DeWitt continued. “He faced a kid (Brog) who had beaten him twice, but through sheer determination he knew he was going to win and pushed that kid until he wasn’t able to accomplish anything on the mat.
“That might have been the best match I’ve seen from Merrill all year.”
In the championship match Beck took Brog down and Brog escaped, leaving Beck up 2-1 after one period, DeWitt said. Brog tied the match with an escape in the second and Beck escaped in the third period to gain a one-point edge.
With both wrestlers on their feet late in the match, Brog started shooting while Beck maintained a good defensive position and stayed active to counter Brog’s moves. With about 10 or 12 seconds left, Brog got Beck in a scramble situation, DeWitt said, and Brog nearly got a takedown as the two went out of bounds with four seconds left. Beck stayed away during the final four ticks to capture the state title.
Mickelson placed fourth at 132 pounds with a 3-2 record. He pinned Christian Coffman of Douglas in 1:07, then edged Dennon Parks of Newcastle/Upton 8-5 before falling to eventual champion Cole Reiner of Buffalo 7-3 in the semifinals. Mickelson came back strong to pin Garrett Schwindt of Glenrock in 2:24 before falling to Trevor Clark of Star Valley in the third-place match 4-0.
“Joey was right in the mix of everything in a tough bracket,” DeWitt noted.
DeWitt said Mickelson had to be cautious against Clark, who likes to put an opponent in a cradle if he can. He said Mickelson couldn’t get off the bottom for one period against Clark, not wanting to get overly
aggressive and get caught.
DeWitt said both Beck and Mickelson are good examples of experienced wrestlers who bought into what the new coach was trying to do this season, and he said Mickelson and fellow junior Jaret Collins will be team leaders next season.
“Once we got closer to being on the same page it made a huge difference,” DeWitt said. “I will look for and will push for Joey and Jaret to step up and become leaders, the ones showing the younger guys what our program looks like. We’ll need them to be leaders not only on the mat but also on trips and in other ways off the mat.”
Collins went 2-0 at heavyweight, pinning Jacob Wamboldt of Torrington in 1:43 and Bryce Womack of Newcastle/Upon in 2:27 before falling to Nathan Kern of Worland 6-1 in the semifinals. Collins had defeated Kern several times before the state tournament but couldn’t pull off a victory this time.
“We didn’t wrestle to the potential we had been; our head wasn’t quite in it,” DeWitt said. He said Kern is a good, competitive wrestler, though, and stepped up at the right time.
Meanwhile, top-ranked Sampson Rich of Worland was upset by Wheatland’s Cody Cagle, so after Collins eliminated Jacob Wamboldt of Torrington on a pin in 1:19, he had to meet Rich. The two foes were expected to meet for the title, but Rich placed third by pinning Collins in 1:47.
DeWitt said Collins nearly had Rich pinned near the end of the one-minute (for consolation rounds) first period, countering a move and throwing Rich to his back with about 25 seconds left in the period.
“If not for the one-minute first period we pin him,” DeWitt said. “We didn’t get the (pin) call. I do believe that with even an extra 15 or 20 seconds it’s over.”
DeWitt said Collins had a great season, finishing with a record of 38-5 and becoming a pinning machine after he challenged the junior to pick up pin points following the Powell Roundtable Invitational.
Also finishing strong for the Bulldogs was senior Joey Bassett, who placed sixth at State with a 3-3 record. Bassett pinned Isaac Goncalves of Worland in 3:32, fell to Dylan Sandstedt of Douglas 22-6, crushed Stetson Hutmacher of Jackson 11-0, pinned Ricky Larson of Newcastle/Upton in 2:51, fell to Ben Elmlinger of Buffalo 16-1 and was pinned by Carter Hill of Star Valley in 3:36, finishing the season with a 14-16 record.
“Joey just continued to improve improve and get his head back into the game after being out with injuries,” DeWitt said. “He was able to catch back up and be competitive. We had to iron out some differences in our styles, which was a learning point for both of us. It was a matter of him taking what I teach him and applying it and me accepting his style and going with that.”
DeWitt noted that Bassett had Hill on his back near the end of a period but didn’t get the points, which changed the course of the match.
As for other Lovell wrestlers:
Freshman Jack Steed went 0-2 at 106 pounds, freshman Alex Nicholson went 1-2 at 113 pounds, pinning Aaron Braun of Rawlins in 3:11, sophomore Jared Wilkerson went 0-2 at 126 pounds, senior Kenneth Powell went 0-2 at 182 pounds, picking up points with a forfeit, and senior RJ Davila went 1-2 at heavyweight, pinning AyJay Williams of Buffalo in 1:36.
DeWitt will be keeping his team busy in the weeks ahead. Several wrestlers will travel to the Junior State USA meet in Green River this weekend, and many will help with the USA and Pup Wrestling programs locally. He said there will be camps to attend this summer, as well.
By David Peck