Wyatt Barnes walked into the Casper Events Center on Friday morning and took in his surroundings.
“I was nervous,” the freshman from Tongue River said.
And for good reason. The crowd was already filing into their seats and wrestlers and coaches from across the state wandered around the nine wrestling mats on the Events Center floor, joking around and warming up before the start of the Wyoming State High School Wrestling Championships.
For Barnes and the rest of the Tongue River wrestlers this was a whole new experience. Friday marked the first time the Eagles had ever competed at the state tournament.
“There had been a lot of talk in the community about starting a wrestling program,” said Tongue River head coach CJ Scholl. “We had a middle-school program, but there was nothing to do in the winter when those kids got to high school except play basketball. So we had a lot of wrestlers playing basketball.”
School officials approached Scholl, who had coached previously at Thermopolis, and told him if he could find nine kids willing to compete so the Eagles could have a team.
“I went on the hunt,” Scholl said. “I was looking for kids that wouldn’t quit.”
He found 16 to start the season and finished with 14, eight of whom qualified for state. Even though the Eagles failed to advance any wrestlers to the semifinals, five of them won matches Friday. And Junior Kyle Breen remained alive in the wrestle-backs at 152.
“I couldn’t be prouder of these kids and how hard they’ve worked,” Scholl said. “Our goal for each kid was to win one match at state, and then win two, and then three, and then four.
“These kids are laying the foundation for Tongue River wrestling.”
After losing his first match, Barnes overcame his nervousness in his second match, pinning Glenrock’s Adrian Maas. Even though he lost in his next match, Barnes had done what he set out to do in his first state tournament.
“I wanted to win at least one match,” he said.
TIGHT TEAM RACE: Six-time defending state champ Moorcroft takes a 13-point lead into Saturday, with Glenrock and Kemmerer right in the mix.
The Wolves finished the first day with 146 points and advanced four to the finals, while Glenrock has 133 points and five finalists and Kemmerer has 132.5 and four going for gold.
RETURN TO HEALTH: Wright junior Dax Yeradi has overcome a knee injury in football and an injured shoulder earlier in January to put himself as one of the favorites at 160 pounds.
But it hasn’t been easy.
“I sat out until after Christmas and then I hurt my shoulder at the Don Runner,” he said. “I felt rusty at first and my conditioning wasn’t where it needed to be. But I think I’ve got my mojo back now.”
Friday, he pinned Big Piney’s Nicholas Garcia in 39 seconds and then earned a 6-2 decision over Thermopolis’ Jon Harvey to advance to the semifinals. After placing fifth and second the past two years at 126, Yeradi feels he’s right where he needs to be.
“I weigh about 153 so cutting weight was never fun,” he said. “This year has been great because I can eat and drink what I want.”