In the midst of a season filled with hope and expectations, the Kelly Walsh wrestling team established a new program benchmark on Thursday night.
Largely subordinate to rival Natrona County through the years, the Trojans trailed the Miller Cup duals 21-1 until a thrilling home victory last season. (That does not include wins at dual tournaments.) And with the Trojans’ only other Miller Cup win coming in 2014, they’d never retained the rivalry trophy since the traveling trophy era began in 2000.
That is, until Thursday. Kelly Walsh took immediate control of the 2019 Miller Cup inside Jerry Dalton Gym, starting with consecutive pins, by winning all but three matches to cruise to a 51-18 win. For the first time in the decades-long history of the two programs, Kelly Walsh won consecutive Miller Cups.
“So proud of the team,” Kelly Walsh junior Jace Palmer said. “We wrestled super good. Top to bottom, only gave up three losses so it was a great team win.”
It was an outcome the Trojans felt coming before the first match. Following their warm-ups, the top-ranked Trojans all lined their edge of the mat, awaiting their rivals’ entrance. The home crowd’s standing ovation signaled when the Mustangs finally made their entrance onto the mat for introductions. Regardless of home-gym advantage, history or theatrical entrances, the Trojans were prepared. They were ready to make history.
Sophomore Analu Benabise, No. 1 at 145 pounds, started the Trojans’ permanent lead. Initially Sam Henderson, ranked No. 4, found a way out of the takedowns, squirming his way out of the returning state champion’s grip. That lasted until the 3-minute mark, when Benabise finally found a roll that kept Henderson’s shoulders to the mat. It took exactly 28 seconds for Josh Kraus, No. 1 at 152, to expand that early lead with a pin of his own.
Junior Kevin Anderson, also ranked No. 1, continued the Trojans’ winning streak but couldn’t score a pin. He netted two 3-point near falls before ultimately having to settle for a technical fall win over Natrona County’s Vincent Genatone.
Then came a second round of consecutive pins from the Trojans. First there was Kole Kraus, ranked No. 1 at 170 pounds, who led on points before scoring a pin in the third period. Junior Luke Nathan, ranked No. 3 at 182, followed with a pin of his own in just over a minute. Having fought through concussion protocol for large sections of the season, Nathan immediately ran out to the hallway to celebrate.
At that point it was 28-0 Trojans. There was no looking back.
“The only thing that maybe could have gone a little better would have been to start with Josh and end with Analu,” Kelly Walsh head coach Travis Peak said. “Gosh, we got on a roll like that to start the dual, that’s not where they wanted to be, I’m sure of that.”
Senior Yahav Shraiber, No. 1 at 195, put Natrona County on the board with a pin. Senior Tre’von Smith, the top-ranked heavyweight, scored a quick pin to double the Mustangs’ points. Then the Trojans went back to work.
Junior Jesus Alvarado, No. 2 at 220, and teammate Lane Jackson both scored pinfalls to increase the Trojans’ lead. Gavin Mancini and Devyn Mostellar, No. 3 at 120, each added decision victories for the visitors, making any lingering hope for a comeback impossible.
Natrona County did get close in the 132-pound match. Top-ranked Jace Palmer of Kelly Walsh and Mustangs’ No. 3 Cyruss Meeks battled like they had multiple times this season. The back-and-forth match ended with Palmer scoring a go-ahead 3-point nearfall with 30 seconds left and finishing with a takedown for a 9-4 decision.
The Mustangs’ Nathaniel Sausedo salvaged a pin in the final match of the night, delaying the inevitable by 3:47.
Celebrations began with the Trojans mobbing Peak in the middle of the mat, eventually taking him to the floor. They broke long enough for Peak to pose with the trophy and its namesake's brother, Mike Miller.
“It’s fun to win and it’s fun to keep doing things that have never been done because it seems like we’ve been doing it a lot lately,” Peak said. “We just got one more big thing we have to concentrate on and stay focused for.”