Trio bring home honors from Ron Thon

Phillip Harnden photos
Joe Taylor flexes for the throngs of spectators after a 16-7 victory over Ashton Dupape  of Rock Springs brings him the championship of Ron Thon Saturday in Riverton.

By Phillip Harnden

Making it to the finals of Ron Thon is something any wrestler  would be proud to proclaim. But for three Herders they not only made it to the final round, but won their matches in front of thousands of fans.
Tate Stoddard and Joe Taylor both finished at the top, bringing home championship belts. Ian Arnold finished third helping the Herders to finish 11th out of 39 teams. Only one 2A team , Moorcroft, finished ahead of the Herd.
For Joe Taylor this was an especially important tournament. Taylor won Ron Thon his sophomore year, but due to a potential knee injury was forced to sit out the tournament last year. He returned this year as a senior to reclaim his place at the top.
“It was pretty emotional, this was my last one and I wanted to go out with a bang,” Taylor said Tuesday. “I went down to my weight I sit good at and I wanted to dominate through the bracket and I think I was able to do that this weekend.”
Taylor has also finished first at state for the last two years. Wrestling comes natural to him and his family.
“Early on I had tried a couple different sports like football and other sports (that) you get little boys involved in when they are young,” he said. “Obviously I was never a big kid, so I wanted to get into something where I was big enough to compete and with wrestling’s weight classes I could never complain about weight or size being a disadvantage.”
The level playing field got him into the sport originally, but he quickly learned to appreciate the sport for it’s other features.
“As I got older I enjoyed the accountability aspect of wrestling,” he said. “I enjoy the fact that you get out what you put into it. After working out all summer long I go into the season confident that I’m going to win some matches, because I put in the work.”
Taylor is no stranger to putting the time in. His discipline in the off-season is something to be admired.
“Missing out on fun stuff in the summer sucks,” he confesses. “But to me it’s well worth it because there is no activity that I could do in the summer that would be more rewarding than sitting on top of the podium. Especially for Ron Thon that is so prestigious. Everyone knows what it is.”
Taylor wants to be immortalized on record books the same way his older brother Jackson, the first Herder to win Ron Thon and three time state champion, is.
“I want to be remembered after high school, so I just have to dominate in those brackets,” he said.
Jackson is still a big part Joe’s training. In the off season he would spend time in the wrestling room by himself or with his older brother.
“He’s a great wrestler,” Joe said about Jackson. “He was able to help me develop a different style of wrestling that I hadn’t been able to experience because he is just so strong. He would offer me different looks as a practice partner that I would then be able to put toward my actual wrestling season this year.”
But it all started for both boys with their dad.
“He’s also a huge part of me getting into wrestling because as a kid he would have me and my brother go down to the mats. I was too scared to wrestle with the other kids so I just wrestled with my dad and my brother,” Joe said. “My dad was an awesome wrestler back in high school and  he got into some competitive stuff after he graduated. He got into Jiu Jitsu and MMA (mixed martial arts). So we’ve always been more like combat athletes to begin with.”
Joe doesn’t stop training just because the season is over. Wrestling is a year round activity for the young grappler.
“I’m good about balancing my time,” he said.  “I will miss out on some fun stuff if it interferes with training or my lifting. But I have a close group of friends who I love hanging out with. I even did a bunch of travelling this summer and made some great memories, but my training always came first.”
Despite the hardcore dedication and competitive spirit Joe has, he and the team this year are  looking at the season a bit different.
“Obviously winning is awesome,” he said. “But we didn’t make it our primary focus. We made our focus this year about actually enjoying the season, not just getting through it. We wanted to focus this year, especially for us seniors, on smelling the roses  and not just rushing through the season.”
As his senior season races toward a close he is trying to follow the team’s focus and smell the roses and enjoy the moments.
“To me, standing on that podium is really emotional.” he said. “I know that being my senior year it’s a perfect picture of the years I have put into the sport and how hard I worked.”
With the kind of success that Joe has had on the mat it’s no surprise that he is looking forward to his college prospects with one eye as he works to finish the season strong with the other.
“I am definitely pushing toward wrestling in college. I am confident that I will,” he said. “I’m already being looked at by a couple South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska schools. I hope some Wyoming teams soon.
“I am planing on taking my time and going on a few campus visits before making my decision which should be around the end of the season. But I hope to use wrestling to help me become a physical therapist. I just want wrestling to help me pay off my education to further my career.”

What’s Next
The team will face Southeast on the road Saturday before heading to Lusk Tuesday evening.


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