SHERIDAN — Returning five seniors to the starting lineup prior to the beginning of Sheridan High School wrestling’s season, committing to the rigorous practice schedule and establishing an unselfish brotherhood throughout the season led the Broncs to suspect a successful 2020-21 regular season and the possibility of a historic postseason. Beating Green River and Thunder Basin Friday evening to finish the regular season undefeated confirmed Sheridan’s preseason suspicions.
“We knew we had all the puzzle pieces,” senior Hunter Goodwin said. “It was just time to put them together and go to work.”
Senior Justin Vela said emotional seniors and the Broncs momentarily reveled in the joy that came with their 54-19 Green River and 42-27 Thunder Basin wins but thought of regionals this Friday and the 4A State Championship tournament Feb. 27.
During a wrestling season of dual-only competition, Sheridan won all of its 23 duals including victories over reigning 4A State Champions Kelly Walsh and the other four teams who placed above the Broncs at the state championship tournament last season.
The last time Sheridan finished the regular season undefeated came in 1991, according to assistant coach Mark Lane, when the Broncs won the state championship title. Senior Hayden Crow found it hard to put into words what the undefeated legacy means to this year’s roster but articulated the Broncs’ feelings heading into the postseason.
“Beating every 4A team in the state puts us in a position where we know we can beat everyone,” Crow said. “It gives us confidence.”
Sheridan hosts the 4A North East regional tournament Friday in a return to tournament-style competition typical of previous seasons not impacted by COVID-19 protocols. The Broncs finished third at last year’s regional competition, only 2.5 points behind second-place Thunder Basin and 36 points behind regional champions Cheyenne East.
During this week’s practice, Sheridan’s chemistry Lane pointed to as key to the Broncs’ success showed when the wrestlers encouraged each other to keep jogging at the end of practice. The wrestlers maintain their physical fitness while preparing their minds for the postseason, which will require the Broncs to focus on one match at a time.
“We’ve been so successful this year, nothing should change for us,” Goodwin said. “We’re still fighting for each other. … You’re still fighting for the team points and your brother right by you.”
As part of coronavirus-related changes, the Broncs have only competed in duals and will use regionals to prepare for the state championship, though the wrestlers feel confident in their conditioning and endurance. Sheridan competitors plan to use the excitement of returning to the tournament style to further elevate their performances, though a handful of freshmen will have to adjust to the afternoon’s format.
Crow highlighted the added confidence an undefeated regular season gives Sheridan but noted every wrestler has competed in close competition. Notably, the Broncs’ final dual of the regular season ended with seven match victories to Thunder Basin’s seven match victories, though Sheridan won on points, so the Broncs’ mindset ahead of regionals hasn’t veered toward over-confidence.
“We’re not content with what’s happened,” Crow said. “We’ve had close duals with Kelly [Walsh], close duals with Natrona, close duals with Thunder [Basin]. By no means have we blown everyone out, so that keeps us humble.”
Lane recalls Sheridan’s dual against Kelly Walsh Jan. 30 when he and head coach Tyson Shatto went to talk to the team after a handful of matches but found the senior class and junior Brock Steel sharing the coaches’ sentiment of, “we’re not wrestling very good right now.”
The upperclassmen leadership Lane referenced, team chemistry and self-motivation present throughout Sheridan’s undefeated season will carry through to Friday and to the state tournament, the Broncs said.
“I’m definitely glad about how [the season’s] turned out so far, but it’s never finished,” senior Quinton Mangus said. “We’re always trying to get better so we can come out on top.”
The 4A North East regional tournament against Thunder Basin and Campbell County will begin at Sheridan High School at 11 a.m. Friday.