RHS hoops title top 2017 local sports story

Dec 31, 2017 From staff reports

There were many memorable sports moments across the landscape of Fremont County during the year 2017 -- including individual accomplishments as well as team glory.

However, one stands alone at the top of the local sports mountain as the most notable.

Riverton's boys basketball squad won the first state championship in school history and for its efforts and triumph in Casper, which completed a 28-1 campaign, has been named top sports story of the year by the staff of The Ranger, Lander Journal and Wind River News.

1. Big Red reigns supreme

Fans hope a high school basketball team like the Riverton Wolverines comes along again soon, but it's not likely. The 2017 Riverton High School boys team was the team of a generation, and it might well have been the team of a lifetime.

Riverton's dominating season that culminated with a 62-34 rout of Worland in the state championship game, has been voted the top Fremont County sports story of 2017.

In 90-plus years of high school competition, RHS had never won a boys basketball championship. The team only made the state tournament once between 1926 and 1960. There were state runner-up finishes a couple of time in the 1960s and again in the 1980s. A 2013 appearance in the Class 4-A title game came up short again.

So there was more than just one season riding with the Wolverines last season. There was a century.

No problem. From game one, the Wolverines staked an all-but-inarguable claim as the best team in Wyoming, regardless of classification. In a remarkable campaign in which they rarely were even challenged on the court, the Class 3-A Wolverines went 28-1, including eight wins against Class 4-A opponents. Only one of those was close. Another was a total dismantling of the Kelly Walsh Trojans -- who won the Class 4-A state crown two hours after Riverton hoisted the 3-A trophy.

Boasting a team seven deep in seniors and a deep bench that stored a second five more than good enough to contend to the championship as well, the Wolverines of coach Stuart Mullins could win any way they needed to. Point guard Brady Fullerton, the Fremont County Player of the Year, sharp-shooting guards Easton Paxton, his younger brother Treyton Paxton and Kole Lone Bear, tenacious, versatile forwards Kyren Higgs and Kylan Shultz, do-do-it all pot Teron Doebele, lightning-quick Alec Richardson, and towering juniors Ridge McCoy and Sol Van Dellen could combine in myriad ways to give opposing defense fits. All five starters led the team in scoring at least once during the year, and McCoy did the same off the bench.

Speaking of defense, that was the central RHS strength game in and game out. The Wolverines had the quickness to play man-to-man defense against anybody, and that's what they did. Mullins was disappointed if Riverton gave up more than 11 points per quarter, but that disappointment was rare. RHS surely led the state in holding opponents under 45 points.

A bonus for the Riverton fans was a schedule that saw the Wolverines host a big preseason tournament and the Class 3-A West regional, giving the home faithful five extra home games to appreciate the show.

Fullerton, Paxton and Doebele were first team all-state, with Shultz on the second team. Of the seven graduating seniors, four are playing college sports.. -- Steve Peck

2. Wrestlemania runs wild at state

Fremont County could boast of three state wrestling champions when the smoke had cleared and dust had settled in Casper on Feb. 25.

Riverton's Ridge Briggs and Hayden Wempen and Lander's Palmer Schafer were all presented with championship belts atop the victory podium after all three grapplers finished off dominant seasons in style.

Briggs -- only a freshman -- dazzled for the Wolverines all season, seamlessly transitioning his considerable skills from the middle to high school levels.

The Big Red rookie posted a 46-7 overall record for the campaign and defeated junior Spencer Angell of Star Valley in the championship match of the 113-pound division at the Class 3-A meet, only a week after also defeating Angell in the title match at regionals by a 5-3 decision.

Wempen burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2016, then continued on as a sophomore, winning the 182-pound belt at the Ron Thon Memorial in Riverton with a dramatic victory over University of Wyoming-bound Carless Looney of Laramie.

The powerful Wempen carried that momentum to Casper, where he blew through the bracket, winning all four of his matches in dominant fashion, including an 18-3 technical fall victory in the semifinals over Newcastle/Upton's Tiegan Marchant, followed by another, a 16-0 victory against Douglas' Cody Pinkerton for the title.

Finally, Schafer was able to rebound from the disappointment of disqualification the previous season with a victory in his final high school match his senior season, claiming the crown in the 138-pound division, defeating Buffalo's Ben Elmlinger by a 7-4 decision.

Schafer was nearly unbeatable all season, going 52-2 on the campaign and later signing a national letter of intent to compete collegiately at Northwest College in Powell.

-- Scott Akanewich

3. Tigers boys, girls rule pool in Gillette

For the Lander boys swim squad, winning Class 3-A state championships has become old hat, but winning never gets old, which the Tigers did for the 21st consecutive season at the state meet in Gillette on Feb. 23-25.

Lander easily outdistanced runners-up Lyman 331-231, as head coach Lantien Chu was named coach of the year, while Tim Hester was also honored as assistant coach of the year.

Caleb Huelskamp (200-yard freestyle, 500-yard freestyle), Treyton Martinsen (50-yard freestyle) and Ryan Brinda (100-yard freestyle) all won individual state titles, along with the 200-yard medley, 200-yard freestyle and 400-yard freestyle relay squads, who were also victorious, giving the Tigers champions in seven of the 12 events contested.

Not to be outclassed were the Lady Tigers, who claimed victory for themselves in Gillette on Nov. 3, blowing away second-place Worland 322-176, as head coach Shawna Morgan's splashers successfully defended their championship from the previous season.

Sophomore Olivia Fowler won the 200-yard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke, but that was only the beginning of the winning, as Abby Hamilton was victorious in the 50-yard freestyle, Maria Kulow took home the 500-yard freestyle.

However, success wasn't limited to individual events, as the 200-yard medley relay team of Kulow, Kiley McConnell, McKenzie Lilygren and Hamilton won, along with the quartet of Fowler, Lily Gose, Lilygren and Kulow taking the 400-yard freestyle relay.

-- Scott Akanewich

4. Chiefs, Cougars, Eagles all

make hoops title games

The first two weeks in March were unprecedented for Fremont County high school basketball.

Five county teams competed for the state championship in Class 1-A, 2-A and 3-A for the first time in state tournament history.

Riverton advanced to the boys Class 3-A state tournament after suffering just a single loss the entire season against Lyman in regional action the week before.

Wyoming Indian and Wind River met for the Class 2-A championship, marking the first meeting in the long history of Fremont County basketball of two teams within the county.

In the semifinals the night before, Wind River defeated Pine Bluffs, a team many thought would waltz through state tournament play.

In winning, the Cougars kept Pine Bluffs from breaking Wyoming Indian's all-class 50-game winning streak.

The Wyoming Indian girls fell just short of a third state championship and foul trouble, combined with poor shooting kept the St. Stephen's girls from repeating as Class 1-A champions. -- Randy Tucker

5. Lady Wolverines

win regional volleyball crown

The Lady Wolverines of Riverton had the privilege of hosting the Class 3-A West regional volleyball tournament on their home court on Oct. 27-28 and proved to be anything but hospitable to their guests in winning the trophy and the number-one seed from the West at the state tournament in the process.

Riverton, who went on to finish the season with a 22-14 overall record and a 4-2 mark in Class 3-A Northwest, began with a first-round victory against Mountain View by a scoreline of 3-1 (25-11 28-26, 23-25, 25-22), as sophomore Naya Shime hammered 33 kills, while Hannah Reinig supplied 54 assists and Skyler Smith (27), Taylenn Thompson (25) Mackenzie Becker (25) and Ella Hauck (21) all had double-digit digs.

The Lady Wolverines next disposed of Lyman, 3-1 (30-28, 17-25, 25-16, 25-20), which propelled them into Saturday's championship showdown against Star Valley.

Just the previous season, Riverton had been defeated by the Lady Braves in the regional championship match, so the Lady Wolverines were indeed happy to return the favor this time around in a 3-1 (23-25, 25-16, 25-17, 25-22) victory, as head coach Trista Day and her club were presented with the shiny hardware they had failed to claim the year before.

Earlier in the season, Shime had verbally committed to play for the University of Wyoming following her high-school career. -- Scott Akanewich

6. Mullins moves to Lander

After two years as Big Red bench boss, which included the Wolverines' first boys' state basketball championship in school history, Stuart Mullins left Riverton for Fremont County rival Lander to become the Tigers' new head coach.

Mullins compiled a 38-18 record during his two seasons in charge.

-- Scott Akanewich

7. Dynamic duo

of jumpers

Riverton High School horizontal jumpers were crowned as Class 3-A's best in the state track finals in March.

Senior Alec Richardson defended his Class 4-A state championship long jump title from 2016, but did it in Class 3-A this time.

Richardson set the Riverton High School all-time record in the event, but fell short of the all-class record. Richardson also won the triple jump and signed a track scholarship to Idaho State University.

Freshman teammate Naya Shime earned her first state championship in the same event. The tall freshman's leap of 18-3.5 was almost a foot farther than second place. Shime added a pair of second-place finishes in the 100-meter hurdles and the high jump and a third in the 200-meter dash.

-- Randy Tucker

8. Lady Tigers

defend golf crown

The past two seasons on the fairways of Wyoming have been very kind to the Lander girls golf squad.

However, the Lady Tigers have been anything but kind to the competition, following up a Class 3-A state championship in 2016, with a successful defense of their crown in Douglas on Sept. 14-15.

Lander posted a two-day team total of 331-340-671 to beat the host Lady Bearcats by an impressive 19 shots.

Double-defending individual state champion Macy Jacobson finished second with an effort of 91-80-171 to lead the way, while Lady Tigers teammates Jaclyn Hudson (13th,114-102-216), Rachel Stoinski (16th, 112-107-219), Jade Ware (18th, 110-113-223) and Laina Martin (32nd, 132-134-266) rounded out the Lander contingent to secure team victory.

Jacobson has since signed a national letter of intent to play at Central Wyoming College.

-- Scott Akanewich

9. Riverton Babe

Ruth state champs

Winning state Babe Ruth baseball titles has become quite routine for Riverton in recent years and 2017 was no different.

Riverton dominated the competition in Casper at this summer's tournament and won its fourth consecutive title with a 22-2 victory in the championship game against Newcastle on July 16.

Vincent Brown struck out 13 Newcastle batters on the mound, while Tyler McKiernan was the hitting hero, going 3-for-4 with a double and four runs batted in for the winners.

Derick Lange, Ethen Vaughn, Dalten Leach and Paxton Rees also had multi-hit games for Riverton.

-- Scott Akanewich

10. Rustlers resurgence

It was certainly an exciting season on the hardwood for the Central Wyoming College men's basketball squad under rookie head coach Jack Nelson, as the Rustlers had a sparkling campaign, posting an overall record of 21-9, including a season sweep of Casper College, a road victory against defending national champions Salt Lake Community College and a first-round win at the Region IX tournament over Miles Community College.

Freshman Irshaad Hunte led Central, averaging 16 points per game, but balanced scoring was a hallmark of Nelson's club, with three others in doubles, including Alihan Demir (13.6), point guard Devon Colley (10.5) and former Riverton Wolverine and Wyoming High School Player of the Year Chris Quayle (10.4), who is currently playing at Division I North Dakota State University.

Marcus Nolan, at 9.6 points and Nick Brannon, with 9.4 just missed averaging in double-digits.

Following a 3-5 start to the season, Central righted the ship and steadily improved as the campaign wore on, including winning nine of its final 10 regular season games, with the only defeat an overtime loss against eventual Region IX champions Gillette College.

-- Scott Akanewich

Other receiving votes

Riverton football beats Lander on last-second field-goal, Riverton Raiders American Legion baseball makes state championship game, Riverton majors Little League wins District 1 crown, Riverton to move back to Class 4-A, Cowboys win Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Wyoming Indian wins boys Class 2-A state cross country championship, Lady Wolverines basketball ends 52-game losing streak, Wyoming wins College Basketball Invitational.

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