CASPER – On Saturday, the Rawlins High School wrestling team was the embodiment of the old sentiment “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” The Outlaws definitely found themselves in a tough spot during the opening round of day two of the WHSAA 3A State Wrestling Tournament at the Casper Events Center.
After two of the team’s qualifiers, Aden Martinez and Toby Setzer, were eliminated from competition on day one, the remaining seven Outlaws wrestlers were hanging on by a thread. Save for sophomore standout Blayne Coleman, who secured his career-first podium finish by making it to the semi-finals. En route, he defeated Cael Holmes of Newcastle-Upton by major decision 9-1 and Tristan Haley of Pinedale by a 2-1 decision.
In the semi-final bout, Coleman lost a tough match to the tournament’s top seed and eventual state champion, Colt Nicholson of Powell High School. Making it to the semi-finals, though, ensured he made the podium, but Outlaws fans would have to wait until Saturday to see how high he would finish.
Coleman solidified his place as one of the best 106 pounders in the state with a strong 3rd-place finish on the weekend. Following his loss in the semi-final match, he beat Blake Durfee of Newcastle-Upton 6-2 and then beat Pinedale’s Tristan Haley 5-4 in overtime to become the Outlaws’ highest place winner of the weekend.
“Blayne took a tough loss in the semis,” said head coach Nate Lee. “But he had the courage and discipline to come back and finish the absolute best he could. I couldn’t be more proud of how he competed or more excited to have him be a leader in this program for the next couple of years.”
The remaining Outlaws wrestlers entered Saturday’s action teetering between history or heading home empty handed. All but Coleman were in the bloodround on Saturday morning, needing a win to end their respective seasons with state tournament hardware.
To say the Outlaws rose to the occasion would be a gross understatement. Individual performances and a collective team effort left Outlaws fans teeming with pride, albeit a little stressed out.
Freshman Eric Duran (126) opened action for the Outlaws on Saturday morning. He was outmatched against Ross Goncalves of Worland and lost his bloodround match, ending his weekend 2-2, just shy of the podium.
Freshman phenom Josh Smith was next up for Rawlins in the 138-pound bracket. He was coming off a banner day on Friday. He upset one of the bracket’s top seeds, Corey Linebaugh of Powell, in the first round by an 11-7 overtime decision. In the quarterfinals, he met a familiar foe in Keegan Meyer from Wheatland. Meyer edged Smith in a 5-3 decision, pushing him into the consolation bracket.
In the first round of consolation action, Smith beat Aidan Coberly of Newcastle-Upton by a 9-4 decision. The win meant that, in order to place, he would need to win his first match on Saturday morning.
Smith showed up. He beat Lyman’s Richie Brewer by a 6-0 decision on Saturday morning and secured his place in the top six in the state at 138 pounds. Following the win over Brewer, Smith lost to the bracket’s number one seed who was upset in the semi finals. He finished the weekend on a high note, beating Logan Branigan of Burns-Pine Bluffs 6-4 to place 5th.
The Outlaws experienced some heartbreak on Saturday morning as senior Levi Bezold fell just short of placing. Bezold won his first match of the tournament by a 9-4 decision over Rhett Karr of Wheatland. In the second round, he lost to Hagen Lamoreaux from Lyman, an eventual finalist at the weight class.
Bezold roared back on the consolation side, beating Kevin Ferguson of Torrington 9-2. His weekend and his wrestling career ended in a close decision to Devon Swisher of Douglas.
Directly following Bezold was junior Robert Flores. Flores won his first match of the tournament over Diego Paniagua of Burns-Pine Bluffs by fall in 1:25. He matched up in the second round against the eventual champion, Seth Orton of Powell, losing by major decision 10-2. True to fashion, Flores was a force on the consolation side of the bracket. He pinned Karson Ewing of Douglas in 36 seconds and followed that up with another pin, this time over Chevy Fackrell of Lyman, at 1:33.
The win over Fackrell secured Flores’ place on the podium. He ended his weekend with his first state wrestling medal – a 6th place – after falling to Tray Hyatt of Riverton and Keegan Gehlhausen of Pinedale.
In the upper weight classes, the Outlaws brought home two more 6th-place finishes. Garrett Parker, a sophomore, nabbed his first state medal at 195 pounds. He beat Jonas Mickelson of Cody, Weston Simianer of Newcastle-Upton and Kyle Logar of Douglas to finish in 6th.
Senior Kenny Raymond was the Outlaws’ final place winner. He proved to be one of the best in the state at the 220-pound weight class. To place 6th, he beat Brandon Winslow of Burns-Pine Bluffs, Ricky Hoffman from Riverton and Danny Becker from Cody. The win over Becker was Saturday morning in the bloodround and came via pin fall at 4:12.
“We were thrilled to see Kenny get a medal this year,” said Lee. “He earned it. He always worked hard and did what was asked of him. We will miss him next year.”
In a season that was marred with injuries, some crushing defeats and lower participation numbers than expected, the final group of wrestlers who showed up for regionals and state proved to be some of the toughest, most disciplined athletes to walk the halls of Rawlins High School. They wrestled through injury, managed their weight all season and finished with a strong showing when it mattered most, beating teams who had finished ahead of them all season.
When many had counted the Outlaws wrestling team out, or insisted the program took steps backward, away from progress, this team proved the doubters wrong and brought home more state medals than any Outlaw team in Lee’s five-years with the program.
“Our expectation going into this state tournament was to bring home more medals than we have in the past,” said Lee. “We did that. We’re never satisfied, of course. We always think about what could have gone better, but we’re incredibly proud of this team and the effort we saw on Saturday morning.”
While the Outlaws’ 10th-place finish is far from where they’d like to be moving forward, Lee and his coaching staff are confident it’s another step in the right direction for the future of Rawlins wrestling. With Raymond being the only state placer graduating, the Outlaws will have plenty to build from for seasons to come.
The 2019-2020 season now behind them, this group of athletes who had the courage and discipline to not only start the season, but also finish it with dignity should be nothing but proud of what they were able to do with the odds stacked against them.
Proud, and hungry for more.