Last year was a season of ‘firsts’ for the Herder wrestlers. For example, they had record number of top performances with seven state placers in 2016.
They smashed last year’s finish this year. Nearly all the “firsts” they accomplished last year were erased and replaced by the team this year.
After placing second in Regionals (a first), the team had 13 placers at the state level (another first) this year. Four wrestlers made it to the finals (yet another first), and three became state champions (tie with last year). But one of those winners was Jaden Williams, who was the first Herder to win the heavyweight (285-lb.) crown.
The Herd finished second in the state, another first, and also the best they have ever finished.
“Anytime you have 13 placers and four in the finals, it’s a great season,” an exuberant coach Nic Dillon said. “In spite of moving to 2A (which happened this year), I think we would have still placed high in 3A. The 2A was very competitive this season. In addition to Moorcroft, who won, Cokeville and Kemerer both had four or five finalists.”
Joe Taylor and Tate Stoddard both returned for Glenrock and replaced their 3A championships from last year with 2A championships this year in the 126-lb. and 113-lb. classes, respectively.
But the dark horse who stepped up and stole the show was Jaden Williams. The junior is in his third year of wrestling and had never placed in a tournament before this season. He wound up taking first at Ron Thon, what some consider the toughest tournament of the year. Then he proved himself just a few short weeks later at the state champion in Casper.
Williams is a humble kid with an especially even demeanor for a teenager. He seems unshakable.
Even when he won, he nonchalantly sauntered off the mat, waiting until after he was clear to let loose and celebrate being state champion.
“All I could think in the last few seconds of the match as I finally got him rolled over . . . all I could think was, ‘I am going to do it! Here he goes, here he goes, here he goes.’ The second he went over I knew I was going to win.”
Wiloliams’ tips the scale at just over 220 pounds. With a little effort, he could slide into the 220-lb. class.
But he likes being a heavyweight.
“This year was different. I feel like 90 percent of my success came down to a mental change. I was able to just settle down and enjoy the sport in every way. I also think I found my weight class. To put it bluntly, I am not fast, but I’m stronger than I look. The 220-lb. class has a lot of very strong and fast wrestlers, but the heavyweights are generally slower and rely on strength more. I like that.”
Being on the lighter end of the spectrum makes Williams in his efforts a little more challenging, he admitted. “I haven’t wrestled anyone under 270 in several weeks,” he said with a chuckle.
The team is looking good for next year with all three champions returning, the coach and wrestlers said. Dillon is hopeful for another season like the last two, only better . . . perhaps with even more firsts. With some extra work, the team hopes to unseat Moorcroft from its five-year reign as 2A state champs.