Thirty-three years is a long time to go without a wrestling championship in Class 4A. The reality is, that’s how long Natrona County has been waiting.
While dynasties Green River and Gillette took turns at the podium on championship Saturday, the Mustangs have been forced to wait their turn. And, as Tom Petty famously sang, it’s the waiting that’s the hardest part.
Following last year’s second-place finish, however, Natrona County may have its best shot at team gold and ending the three-decade absence of a wrestling championship.
The season is still in its infancy but head coach Scott Russell is content with the results so far.
“We’re fairly pleased with it,” he said after Tuesday’s dual victory against Gillette. “Quite frankly, tonight, I thought our technique could have been a lot better. I liked our aggressiveness, I liked our intensity, but I think, technique-wise, we could have been a lot better.”
Natrona County won all but one match in that dual against the Camels, a cornerstone program to Wyoming wrestling that fell victim to the split with newcomer Thunder Basin. Russell said that he felt for the remaining athletes at Gillette who did not bolt to Thunder Basin. He saw their football program in shambles during the fall and can’t wait for them to recover.
“I feel for them, I really do,” he said. “I hope they get back their dominant program back because it’s fun. It’s been a major rivalry and it’s been fun.”
But Gillette’s absence from the top this year could open the door for the Mustangs. They return three wrestlers who made the semifinals last year, including two-time state champion Brett Brenton. Brenton wrestled at 170 pounds on Tuesday night, a considerable jump from where he wrestled last year (152), but pinned his opponent in 62 seconds anyway.
The returns of Dylan Anderson (126), Dan Slack (195) and Tom Park (285) also raise expectations for this season. Expectations that even left room for improvement from a 68-6 win.
“I think our team has a lot of ways to improve,” senior Seth Cisneros said. “We can learn stuff from our best wrestlers like Brett and them.”
Possibly the biggest test for Natrona County is just across town.
Kelly Walsh has made incredible strides under head coach Travis Peak and the Trojans return a lot of talent from last year’s team and added football standouts Brock Spiegelberg and Joey Geil.
Even though the Trojans finished sixth a state last year, Russell said they are as big of a threat as any in the state.
There’s still a lot of time for his team to find their rhythm. The December portion of the season is for experimentation before the winter break forces athletes off the mat and the new year ushers in new levels of conditioning.
That’s when Russell anticipates the Mustangs will hit their stride. It’s a matter of getting in the swing of the season.
“We’ve got some highly talented kids on our team and we’ve got to get kids at the right weight classes,” Russell said. “It’s going to take a little time to get the rust off and start shining like we can.”