Thursday night at Kelly Walsh High School was ceremony. For years the dynamic of high school wrestling between Casper’s two high schools significantly tipped one way — favoring Natrona County. Kelly Walsh was the doormat. But through a several-year rebuild, the guard has finally changed. Fans may have felt the shift before — even last year when the Trojans won their first state title — so when the Trojans ran out onto the mat to Rhianna’s “Run This Town,” it was hard to argue.
Veteran, savvy and stacked, the Trojans won nine of the 14 matches to capture yet another Miller Cup trophy in a 42-26 win against sophomore-laden rival Natrona County, which nearly went match-for-match in front of a lively bipartisan crowd.
After losing 21 of the first 22 Miller Cups and finishing behind their rival in nearly every season at state since the rivalry began, the Trojans have now defeated the orange-and-black in six consecutive duals, including three head-to-head meetings during the Trojan Border Wars.
That ceremony followed Senior Night festivities, where the faithful at Kelly Walsh High School got to thank the senior class that started the climactic shift. There was Jace Palmer, the three-time state champion aiming to cap his Trojan career with an unprecedented fourth. The crowd congratulated Kevin Anderson, Luke Nathan and Gavin Mancini, three battle-tested grapplers who have conquered injury with eyes on their first individual state championships. Also Phoenix Buske, the team’s newest face after transferring, but also Class 4A’top-ranked wrestler at 220 pounds. And then there was Kole Kraus, a returning state champion who’s weathered loss and remained on the team. All of them secured wins on Senior Night.
Buske started the back-and-forth action with a second-period pinfall. He nearly rolled-up Blake Birkle in the first only for the horn to save the Mustang. Buske ultimately scored the pin 47 seconds later. Natrona County’s D’Anthony Smith — the No. 4 wrestler at 220 pounds — evened the match by scoring a pin over Trojans’ heavyweight Connor McBroom. And if the night wasn’t contentious enough, the 106-pound bout got there.
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Mancini and Natrona County’s Tate Tromble battled for all 6 minutes of their match, coming down to a decision made after the whistle. Tromble led on points before Mancini reversed in the final minute. In the closing moments Tromble rocked back onto his shoulders and reversed, aiming for a pin just before the horn. He was in control when the match ended. The Mustangs thought he won but Mancini was awarded a two-point nearfall before the reversal, giving him the 9-8 decision.
The Natrona County faithful found solace in a first-period pin by 113-pounder Kael Johnson. Lane Jackson, No. 3 at 120 pounds, immediately answered with a second-period pinfall while leading 14-0 on points to regain a Trojan lead. Mustangs starter Nathaniel Sausedo, the only returning wrestler from last year’s Miller Cup to record an NC win, thoroughly controlled his match before scoring a technical fall win (18-1) in the third period going into the halftime break.
Palmer, one of the marquee faces of the Trojan wrestling program for four years, came out of the break to square off with Mustangs sophomore Billy Brenton. They’d met many times before and this one went down like the rest: with a pin. Palmer gained momentum late in the first period, scored a takedown and finally got the pin near the midway point. Top-ranked 138-pound Cyruss Meeks of Natrona County came from behind with a strong third period to score an 11-4 decision over No. 3 Noah Hone, nearly scoring the pin and having to settle for a three-point nearfall at the horn. That cut Kelly Walsh’s lead to just one, (21-20).
Top-ranked and two-time defending state champion Analu Benabise extended the Trojans’ lead in the 145-pound bout with a 15-4 major decision win over Kyler Henderson.
Momentum finally found a permanent home with Kelly Walsh when Sam Henderson scored a 4-3 decision upset against No. 3 Kaedon Wilcox. Wilcox led most of the third period until Henderson scored a takedown with 20 seconds remaining and saw the match through from there. Anderson, the aforementioned 160-pound senior, padded the Trojans’ lead even more with an aggressive 13-1 major decision win to piggy-back off Henderson’s upset. Luke Nathan’s come-from-behind pin with 37 seconds left in the 170-pound match mathematically sealed victory for the Trojans.
Kraus, No. 2 at 182 pounds, led for most of his tight match against No. 4 Vince Ginantone and saw the match through for a 3-1 win. Then came a one-sided pin by Colter Helm to give Natrona County a moral boost in the final match.
Follow sports reporter Brady Oltmans on Twitter @BradyOltmans