Despite entering the fewest grapplers of any of the 20 schools participating in the Don Runner Wrestling Invite, Saratoga High finished in eighth place and sent two athletes to the first-place podium. Another Panther wrestler took home a fourth place finish from the weekend competition. Coach Zach Schmidt summarized, "I think as a whole, this is the best we've wrestled as a group all season."
As they have routinely this winter, junior Jaxon King and senior Thomas Ingraham ended the weekend atop the brackets. King and Ingraham scored 26 and 30 team points, respectively, with King winning three matches, one by pin, and Ingraham pinning three opponents and winning two more matches by decision for a total of five W's.
Though King's finish was familiar to him, his weight class was not. At Don Runner, King was wrestling at 126 pounds for the first time all year, having made the jump up to that division from 120 pounds.
The decision to move up to "26's," in wrestling parlance, came after King told Schmidt "I don't feel myself at 20's."
"I think it wore on him to know he kind of has to be careful about what he puts in his body on a Friday night," Schmidt explained. For weekend competitions, Schmidt said King would wrestle tough bouts on Friday but still have to monitor his calorie intake or even work out the next morning to stay underneath the weight cut-off for Saturday.
"We talked to (King) and said, 'If you can show up and perform at 126, that's going to be a good persuasion for us that you should stay there," Schmidt said. King struggled at points with the more muscular 126-pound competition, but still beat all-comers. Schmidt hopes that by wrestling 126, King can concentrate on building strength without having to fear being disqualified by the scales.
Schmidt's commentary on Ingraham was more concise–perhaps because his wrestling was all but flawless over the weekend. "I truly think right now that Tom (Ingraham) is the number one kid in the state for 2A," Schmidt said of the 152-pounder.
To get his first-place finish, Ingraham had to face off against Cokeville's Antheny Petersen in the championship bout, a competition Ingraham won on points, 9-3. Schmidt said Petersen may be Ingraham's biggest competition for a State Title later in the year, and that he watched the match attentively.
Sophomore 160-pounder Tristan Gray, meanwhile, set his sights on besting an opponent who had beat him twice already this season. Gray accomplished his goal, pinning Eston Bezold of Rawlins in just under five minutes, and Gray rode that momentum to a fourth place finish over all.
"We were super thrilled with Tristan (Gray)," Schmidt said of the sophomore, who registered three victories (two by pin) while losing twice.
The three wrestlers who finished ahead of Gray included two runners-up to the State Title and one third place State finisher. "We told (Gray) that's pretty good company to be in," Schmidt recalled.
"I'm happy with where we finished, but I'm not going to settle. We have bigger goals in mind," Schmidt said as the season enters its final furlough. Schmidt wants the Panthers competing at the highest level, and to do so, his search for better practices and ideas is constant.
Schmidt noticed that over the past two weekend competitions the Panthers have gotten off to a slow Saturday start, so some changes in the pre-weigh-in routine will be forthcoming.
"I think we need to show up early and be in our practice stuff and get a good solid sweat going in the morning and get a 30, 45 minute practice beforehand instead of sitting up in the stands. It takes your body a while to wake up," Schmidt said.
Up next, the Panthers will be heading to Lander for the Jan. 20, 21 Lander Invite, where they will face a broad slate of 2A, 3A and even 4A competition. If you show up early enough, you just may get treated to some Saturday morning sweat.