The 2010 state wrestling tournament continues to serve as a motivator for Powell coach Nate Urbach.
The Panthers entered the Wyoming State High School Wrestling Championships that year as the favorites to win their third consecutive Class 3A title. Powell had a 25-point lead on Douglas heading into the final five matches, but the Bearcats won all five to eke out a one-point victory and deny the Panthers their three-peat.
“We talk about that all the time,” Urbach said Saturday at Riverton. “We’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
After this weekend, it doesn’t seem likely that history will repeat itself.
The two-time defending state champion Panthers ran away from the field at the Ron Thon Memorial Wrestling Invitational, which brings together the best wrestlers in the state for an all-class tournament. Powell scored 203 points without having an individual champion. Class 4A schools Sheridan (153.5 points), Gillette (146) and Green River (128.5) finished second through fourth, respectively. Douglas was fifth with 125 points. Powell is the first 3A school to win the Ron Thon since Douglas pulled off the feat in 2004.
“In 2010, we were pumped coming out of Ron Thon because we finished third and that was our first trophy here in a long time,” Urbach said. “But Douglas did a really good job of closing the gap on us in those weeks before state. Ron Thon is great, but it’s not our state tournament.”
The Panthers have two defending state champions – sophomore Kye Catlin at 145 pounds and senior Zach Thompson at 195 – along with six others who placed at state last year. Saturday, Powell had nine wrestlers place in the top six of their respective weight class.
That quality depth also helped the Panthers win their own invitational in December without an individual champion. Last month at the Lander Invitational, which featured nearly every 3A team in the state, the Panthers crowned five individual champs and beat runner-up Douglas by 94 points.
“This year everything is kind of falling into place,” sophomore 126-pounder Nic Urbach said. “The last time we had a chance at a three-peat we fell just short, but this year we’re ready to do it.”
With eight state title teams, the Powell wrestling program has always been formidable. Ever since Nate Urbach took over as head coach 10 years ago, however, the Panthers have been at the top of the game. Following an 11th-place finish in Urbach’s first year in 2005, Powell has won four state titles and never finished lower than fourth at state.
“Nate is as good a coach as there is in the state,” said Lander coach Nick Fulton, who wrestled at Powell. “Every year he tweaks something and brings something different. He’s in the mode where he reloads, he doesn’t rebuild.
“Powell is a team that’s a lot better in February than they are in December. They’re doing something right up there.”
The Panthers say there’s no secret to their success; it’s just a matter of being better prepared than their opponent.
“Our practices are probably some of the hardest in the state,” 160-pound junior Jacob Davis said. “That’s what makes us one of the best teams in the state.”
Nate Urbach said there’s more to the Panthers’ success than simply hard work, however.
“You can only deal with what you have,” he said. “And I’ve got some really good kids. That’s the bottom line. They’re hard-nosed kids, they work hard and they’re athletic.
“Plus, we’ve got a lot of good people in place at the high school and we’ve got a lot of continuity in our programs.”
That continuity has resulted in multiple state championships for Powell. The football team won its third consecutive state title in November, which followed the girls volleyball championship. The boys track team has also won two titles in the past five years.
And while the wrestling team is focusing on a three-peat of its own, there’s reason to believe that the Panthers won’t stop there. Seven of the nine Powell wrestlers that placed at the Ron Thon are underclassmen, including sophomores Urbach, Catlin and 120-pounder Chance Karst.
“I think we’re going to be able to win a couple more state championships with the group we have,” Catlin said.
Not surprisingly, Nate Urbach doesn’t want to look too far into the future -- not with the memories of what happened in 2010 still fresh in his mind. Still, the coach can’t help but smile when he thinks about his talented underclassmen.
“Just on paper, this team is by far the most successful team that I’ve had at Powell,” he said. “And we’re fairly young, so we can possibly be in a reload situation as opposed to a rebuild situation. If you can’t be excited about that as a coach then you shouldn’t be coaching.
“But we’re still keeping our eye on the prize. The state tournament is still our No. 1 goal.”