The wrestling room at Kelly Walsh was abuzz Thursday. It was a typical practice before a meet, focusing on lighter technique work and mostly used to let off steam and play a football-style game with a medicine ball before actual sparring.
All of the hardest work would be done over the next two days.
The first annual Trojan Border War kicks off at Kelly Walsh High School on Friday with the first round beginning at 3:30 p.m. The meet involves the Trojans, Natrona County, Douglas and Star Valley, as well as one school each from neighboring states Idaho, Montana, Nebraska and South Dakota. All teams will dual against each other and by the time Saturday afternoon rolls around, there will be a champion.
“I’m really looking to see what kind of character they have,” Kelly Walsh head coach Travis Peak said of his wrestlers. “I think being in front of their home crowd and going against some of the teams we’re going to go against, I think they’ll be able to compete.”
Peak is anxious to see how the team responds to having to shuffle its lineup due to being without key wrestlers. Sophomore Josh Kraus, the second-ranked Class 4A wrestler at 145 pounds according to Wyowrestling.com, will not be competing. Neither will senior Javen Palmer, the second-ranked wrestler at 160.
“We’re going to be without a couple of our big guns,” Peak said. “So I’m looking forward to how this team responds to having to go without those big guns.”
Those younger wrestlers will need to respond in hopes of competing against some of the stiffest competition they’ll face all season.
Both Natrona County and Kelly Walsh could challenge for the Class 4A state championship. Two-time Class 3A defending state champion Star Valley has been a wrestling dynasty while Douglas has usually finished near the top of 3A, but is relying on underclassmen this season.
The out-of-state competition isn’t any easier.
Hardin, which will represent Montana, finished fourth in its classification last season. Rapid City Central, representing South Dakota, is the reigning fifth-place finisher in its classification. Teton, Idaho, was 10th in its classification last year and North Platte finished 13th out of 31 teams in the largest classification in Nebraska last year.
For those wrestlers coming off the Shane Shatto Memorial Invitational last weekend, this will not be much of a competitive step down. There are a combined six state champions competing in the Trojan Border War.
The out-of-state wrestlers also offer a different look than what the Wyoming wrestlers have see in most competition. For Kelly Walsh, that means making the Trojans more aggressive.
“I kind of think they tend to wrestle hard no matter what against these guys they don’t know,” Peak said, “whereas if they go up against Joe Blow from Rock Springs, who is supposed to be super tough, they’ll go out and be super hesitant, hold back, wrestle to not lose.
“If it’s someone they don’t know then they get after it.”
Kelly Walsh’s first dual is against Hardin while Douglas faces Teton. Star Valley and Natrona County dual in the first round as well.
This is the first time Casper has hosted a major wrestling meet in nearly a decade, Peak remarked. That is something he is especially excited for.
“It’ll be nice to stay home and not have to travel, stay home and compete in front of our friends and family,” Peak said. “I think that will help keep everyone refreshed. I’m just excited to stay home and have something to put on here.”