Gillette , sophomore Taylor Bear displayed the same strengths that make his team so tough to beat Saturday night at the Billings Senior gym.
The 112-pounder won the season-opening Billings Invitational wrestling championship with a 7-3 decision over Conrad’s Luke Schlosser. The rest of the Campbell County Camels were pretty successful, too, as the Gillette squad wrapped up the team title 255-2201/2 over Billings Skyview.
“It is amazing. We had seven state champions last year with six seniors,” said Bear, himself a Wyoming 4A state champ last year at 103. “We graduated a ton of people. We are young and really stepping up.”
Camels coach Tom Seamans was especially happy with his team’s effort. He said the Camels graduated 13 seniors from last year’s squad, which won the Wyoming state title for the seventh straight year. Besides the six state champions, two third-place state finishers, a fifth and a sixth earned their degrees.
“We had a great two days,” said the ninth-year coach. “The first-round we had nine matches and nine pins.
“Billings is always a good tournament for us if for no other reason Skyview is a rival since I’ve been here. We can count on them competing with us. We are measuring sticks for each other.”
Bear, who took third at last year’s Billings Invite at 105, said his match against Schlosser — last year’s state B-C champ at 98 pounds — was a true test.
“It was a real tough tourney,” said Bear. “The kid I had in the finals was a state champ. He was the toughest match; a really good opponent.”
Last season Bear’s season was put in danger when he broke his right hand in a dual. The hand shattered during the match and doctors needed two plates and 18 screws to put it back together. He returned two days before regionals after missing six weeks recuperating. He went on to win the state championship and finish with a 13-1 record.
Plenty of other Camels followed Bear’s lead in Billings and came home with hardware over the weekend. Gillette placed 12 wrestlers, including two other champions in Alex Coolidge at 189 and James Boylan at heavyweight. Coolidge was named the tourney’s Outstanding Wrestler — the fourth straight time a Gillette wrestler has earned the honor — and Boylan earned the quick pin with four falls in nine minutes. Gillette also won the Billings Invite in 2006 and 2007.
“I’m very happy with the team,” said Bear after accepting his award before the championship round continued. “Some of these kids it’s their first time wrestling varsity.
“We didn’t have a 119-pounder and considering we have it wrapped up already is pretty awesome.”
Billings Skyview senior Nik Hinebauch won his third straight Billings Invitational crown when he downed Senior’s Cree Minkoff 11-6 at 105.He won the title at 98 last year for the Falcons and the previous year at 98 for Huntley Project.
“It’s exciting. It’s tough to do but pretty exciting,” Hinebauch said of the triple. “There were a bunch of good kids and everybody wrestled hard. It was tough and a good tournament.”
Skyview won this tourney last year and finished second at the state AA tourney. Hinebauch gave credit to Gillette saying “they are always strong and it’s tough to beat them.” He did say that despite graduating 18 seniors, the Falcons’ goals remain the same as previous years.
“We are a really young team and working hard,” Hinebauch said. “We are in the running for a state championship one step at a time.”
Skyview’s Clay Cathey won the championship at 119 pounds. He was the state 105-pound champ last year as a freshman. Skyview placed 11 wrestlers, including four runner-ups, and led the Camels by 7.5 points heading into Saturday.
“Gillette wrestled well and outwrestled us today,” Falcons coach Rich Malia said. “We lost some close matches and that is the difference between winning a tourney or not. We had a great day Friday and did not wrestle great Saturday. Saturday is the day you want to do well to win a tourney.”
Billings Senior finished fifth with 145 points and had two champions in Shylo Rambin at 98 pounds and Tanner Sprenkle at 125. Sprenkle, a junior, said his goal is again to go undefeated and claim his third state championship. Last year he went 39-0 with 24 pins at 125.
Sprenkle said the Broncs have big goals as the season progresses. Last year they were fifth at the state tournament.
“Our team is doing fantastic and our practices are as tough as they’ve ever been,” he said. “Coach (Lonnie Robertson) has high expectations for us this year.
“Hopefully we get better and wrestle Skyview (in a dual) and beat them for the first time (in Sprenkle’s career).”
In a battle of freshmen, Rambin defeated Skyview’s Justin Waterson 11-4 for the title.
“He is a stud,” Sprenkle said of Rambin. “I’m so proud of that guy. He’s a freshman and I’m so glad he’s on our team.”
Laurel had individual champions in sophomore Tommy Cooper at 140 and sophomore Dylan Kramer at 152.
“We are doing great this year,” Cooper said. “Everyone works hard in the room and gives each other a challenge. … I think we’ll improve gradually throughout the year.”
Cooper finished last season 33-17 at 125 and was sixth at the state A tourney.
“It was a great start this year and hopefully I can do this good through the year,” he said.
NOTES: This year’s awards were unique and had a special touch. Senior’s Robertson is the wood shop teacher at the school and made the team awards out of alder. He also made plaques for the top three placers in each weight and the outstanding wrestler and quick-pin winner. Robertson noted that Broncs wrestler Greg Wyatt helped out. Those placing fourth through sixth received medals.