Moorcroft WY has a rich wrestling tradition, they are passionate and innovative, and for that, in their trophy case you will find the last 6 2A state team titles. Every weekend across the country wrestling tournaments take place and thousands of medals are distributed to the young men and women who earn them, but there is only one wrestling tournament in the country that gives you the opportunity to win a gold buckle, the Moorcroft Mixer. Three years ago, Pacen Gifford was struggling his way through a rough freshman year, wins were scarce, but failure and doubt were plentiful. After losing four straight matches in Moorcroft in 2016, Gifford was doing what most freshman do, trying to figure out if the work was worth the reward. When the finals of the Moorcroft Mixer started, the lights are turned out and a drop light illuminates only one mat where your attention is directed to the two young men who have battled their way to the finals of this tournament. The production that is the Moorcroft Mixer finals had the young Gifford’s attention, and when he saw that the champions received a gold buckle, he had his answer, and the fire was lit. Fast forward three years to last Saturday, Gifford stands under that light with only one man between him and the buckle, Moorcroft’s returning state runner up Parker Schlater. Gifford steps on the mat and its clear he has every intention of getting that buckle. His feet are moving well, and his position is good, both wrestlers are getting a feel for each other, but its Gifford who is getting the better of the exchanges, his hands are heavy, and he is moving Schlater easily. The two wrestlers separate for a moment and as they reengage Gifford puts a punishing left hand on his opponent and as Shlater blinks and braces for impact, Pacen changes levels and he’s in on his shot and it looks like a sure takedown, but the Moorcroft wrestler didn’t earn his list of accolades by chance, he quickly counters into a switch position, a long hard fought battle will ensue, but eventually Schlater will win the position. The rest of the match will follow suit, as Gifford looks to be the aggressor but Schlater continues to get the points, and Gifford will ultimately have to settle for a second-place medal. Though it was the buckle that lit the fire in the once wide-eyed freshman, Gifford has matured into a young man, who understands that even though he fell short of his goal it is the journey that's the real reward. “Pacen has high expectations of himself this year, this loss reviled some things we need to work on, and ultimately this will be a positive mile stone in his quest.” NCHS Coach’s
Other notable performances from the weekend came from James Cushman and Dimitri Richards. Cushman would win his first match to advance to the quarter finals where he would get the opportunity to face the 2nd ranked high school wrestler in the nation at 126 pounds. Kyle Burwick of Hettinger, ND. James fought hard, but clearly faced a daunting task, with a predictable outcome, and though the match itself would yield little growth, James would capitalize on the opportunity by observing the young man from Hettinger the rest of the day, watching how he approached competition, and conducted himself throughout the day, giving himself a rare insight into the mindset that it takes to find such elite success.
Dimitri Richards would have a mixed weekend but get a lot of valuable mat time. Richards would get a first round win in the Moorcroft Mixer only to drop his next two bouts, this would put him out of the Mixer, but into the next day’s “Second Chance Tournament”. Dimitri would take full advantage of his second chance, by pinning his first two opponents and then picking up a hard fought 3-2 win in the finals. “Richards missed last year’s season and that stunted his growth a little, but his attitude, and work ethic has been great this year in the practice room. He is just missing some time on the mat. In the seven matches he got this weekend you could see improvement with each one”. NCHS Coaches