The team title race had been all but clinched by the time Star Valley’s McCabe Smith held on for a 4-2 victory over Worland’s Nate Kern in the 285 semifinals.
But the Braves aren’t going to complain.
Star Valley closed Friday’s action with 200 points, 95.5 more points than second-place Buffalo. With a number of wrestlers taking the mat Saturday, it’s almost a certainty the Braves will take another state championship back to Afton.
“Being able to come back and just dominate everyone is fantastic,” Smith said. “The fact that I’m able to do heavyweight when I’m like 60 pounds under is great.”
While giving up so much weight to opponents has put Smith at a disadvantage, he has used his superior conditioning to outlast his bigger opponents.
He’s also a Star-Tribune Super 25 selection, but he doesn’t think football has made that much of an impact on his wrestling career.
“Wrestling is a lot tougher and you get after it more,” Smith said, “so wrestling helps with football.”
Smith is now just one win away from bringing another state championship to Star Valley, but he has had to go through the gauntlet to do it.
In the second round he faced Ron Thon champion Cody Cagle of Wheatland before facing the reigning state champion Kern. Bryce Womack of Newcastle/Upton punched his ticket to face Smith in the finals.
‘Pin my way through’
Riverton’s Hayden Wempen may not have won a state championship last year but he still has the confidence of a man with gold.
Wempen, just a sophomore, entered the state tournament with a 46-3 record and scored a pinfall victory over Mountain View’s Ethan Fenus in the first round before pinning Wheatland’s Wyatt Crane in the quarterfinals.
He admitted that wrestling in the Casper Events Center didn’t give him many butterflies. In an even bolder move, he shared his goal for the state tournament.
“Just wrestling and performing to my abilities, and I’ve been doing that,” Wempen said. “I want to pin my way through so I definitely want to keep pinning. But as far as butterflies, not much.”
Confidence like that from a sophomore is nearly unprecedented, but it’s warranted. Wempen defeated Laramie’s Carless Looney by a 5-3 decision at the Ron Thon earlier this season, giving him a victory over a returning state champion and NCAA Division I wrestling commit (Wyoming).
His hopes to do so ended with only a technical fall (18-3) win over Teigan Merchant in the semifinals. But he still has a chance to win his first state championship when he goes up against Douglas’ star freshman Cody Pinkerton.
Wempen has already seen him a lot this season so he’ll rely on his experience against the young Bearcat.
“We’ve have wrestled a lot,” Wempen said. “He knows all my moves and I know all his moves. So I just have to stay solid and wrestle tough.”
After pulling off a come-from-behind victory over Douglas’ Zach Hoopman in one of the best matches of the quarterfinals, Cody’s David Plummer fell to Lander standout Palmer Schafer.
Schafer, who won his first two matches with first-period pinfalls, pinned Plummer midway through the second period after seizing full control of the match.
Experience may have come into play, as Schafer finished second at the Ron Thon and has won 52 of his 54 matches this season.
Junior Josh Dawson remained undefeated at 220 going into the semis after earning a 13-2 major decision over Cody’s Eric Flores in the semis. … In the 195-pound championship match, defending state champ Dryden Menck of Lyman and Powell’s Zach Easum will wrestle each other for the fourth time in a month. Menck pinned Easum in last week’s West Regional championship match.