Gifford, Caldera, Cushman, Molzahn, Kruse qualify for state wrestling tourney


WRIGHT – Wright played host to this year’s 2A East Regional Wrestling Tournament. Niobrara County High School took a small but promising squad of five grapplers to compete.  

Freshman Donovan Kruse navigated his way far enough through the 106-pound bracket to get a qualifier spot.  

“Donovan has worked hard all year in the wrestling room, but more importantly in the classroom, and this trip to the state tournament is well earned,” the NCHS coach said.

James Cushman put himself in a precarious position, dropping his opening bout in one of the tournaments biggest brackets made the stakes for his next bout simple – win and you go to state, lose and you stay home. Cushman was unaffected as he walked on the mat with confidence and quickly punched his ticket to the state tournament with a fall.

“Dylan Molzahn came from obscurity to wreck the 170-pound bracket, with a second-place finish,” coach Brandon Stewart said. “I say somewhat obscurity because the athletic, talented freshman is hard to keep a secret, however his adjustment to the high school level has not come easy, and that athleticism and talent has been obscured by his peers at this level.”

Success in wrestling requires an athlete to make a commitment in all aspects of competition; strength, conditioning, nutrition, technique and mind set. As Dylan’s understanding of wrestling has matured, his mindset, technique, and diet have begun to catch up with his physical talent making for a dangerous combination, which he put on full display at last week’s regional tournament.  

Pacen Gifford has been a consistent, solid wrestler all season long and the regional tournament was no exception. Gifford found himself in the finals after a 10-1 semifinals performance against Southeast’s third-ranked Brady Tosh. The 195 finals match pitted Gifford against Moorcroft’s Parker Schlater, in a rematch of the Moorcroft Mixer finals. 

Pacen was aggressive from the start, getting in on a good shot and almost putting Schlater on his back. From there it was all Gifford and just as it looked like he had complete control of the match the Moorcroft wrestler reversed Pacen to his back and got the fall just as time expired in the first period. Going into the state tournament, Gifford has high expectations and feels good about his wrestling, Stewart said.

“I know I can beat him, I just want to have that match one more time,” Gifford said.

Ending the trio of second-place finishers for NCHS was Jasper Caldera. The solid sophomore rolled through the competition on his way to the finals where he fell to Wrights No. 1-ranked Pheonix Buske.  Caldera is one of the state’s top ranked 220-pounders, so going into the state tournament, he knows anything is possible and the excitement is high, Stewart said.

The WHSAA State Wrestling Tournament will take place this weekend Friday and Saturday, Feb. 22-23 at the Casper Events Center, with preliminary rounds held on Friday and medal matches and finals on Saturday. For a complete schedule go to whsaa.org.

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