Tiger wrestler Pacen Gifford is the only senior on this year’s squad and looks to move up the podium at regionals and state this year. He wrestled at 182 most of last year before dropping to 170, where he finished sixth at state. “I’d definitely like to make it to the championship match,” said Gifford. “I just have to work a little harder, and show the younger guys how to work hard every day.”
“He’s matured, and surprised us a bit last year by getting on the podium,” said Head Coach Ron Nelson. “He can put moves together and so we expect him to be right there again this year.” While he is hovering around 190 at the time of this interview, he will likely start in the 182 pound class.
Among the other returnees are sophomores Jasper Caldera and James Cushman and junior Dmitri Richards rejoins the squad after sitting out last winter. Richards has worked hard so far and according to Nelson if he can slip into the 190 comfortably, that gives Caldera flexibility to either go HWT or 220. “Last year there were all those good seniors at 220, so we put him up to HWT- and he finished sixth at state,” added Nelson. Cushman will be around the 130 pound class and looks to build on a solid freshman campaign.
Freshmen Dylan Molzahn, Donovan Kruse, Alijah Pavone and Chris Hicks were all members of last season’s SEWAC champion team and will need to adjust quickly to the high school level. Sophomore Chase Berens is new to the program after wrestling as a youngster before moving to Lusk. “Dylan should be able to jump right in there and compete right away,” Nelson said. The others will gain experience at the lower weights and hope to contribute.
While Nelson, in his 49th season (37 as head coach) still commands a strong presence in the middle school and NCHS programs, it is also the young coaches Bobby Wiegel (2nd at NCHS), Brandan Stewart (2nd at NCHS) and Andrew Wasserburger asserting their leadership into the program. Esmerelda Caldera returns for her third year as manager, Camdon Fitzwater is in her second and Renae Marker joins the squad.
Five-time defending state champ Moorcroft is still the team to beat but Nelson expects Cokeville and Glenrock to have talented squads also. NCHS opens the season with the Tiger Invitational on Dec. 7.