NAMPA — For the next year, the Snake River Panther wrestling team will be announced as the 3A state champions. This hard earned and well deserved title was awarded to the Panthers on Saturday evening as the Panthers came together as a team, at just the right moment, to capture their first state title in over a decade, outdistancing second place Bonners Ferry 165 to 151.5.
"We really didn't think that this was going to happen, we were hoping to come over and wrestle good enough for a trophy but we weren't expecting this," Snake River head coach Jeff Gardner said. "I've seen this happen to other schools where they come in, get on a roll. Kids beat kids that they aren't supposed to beat, unseeded wrestlers are winning and that is exactly what these guys did. They are a great group of kids, they wanted to win and they came down here and did it. They were amazing."
Snake River advanced just a pair of grapplers into Saturday's finals, ironically enough they faced off with each other at 112. Skylerr Valentine was able to capture the top spot on the podium with a hard fought 10-2 decision over his team mate Tony Castaneda.
"This was bitter sweet, it feels good to be a state champ but to go and have to wrestle your own team mate it doesn't feel the same," Skylerr Valentine said. "It is nice to know that you worked each other hard enough in practice to both get into the finals though."
"Skylerr is a tough kid and I have a lot of respect for him," Tony Castandeda said. "The only difference between this and in our wrestling room is that there were a lot more fans in the stands. I'm just happy that it was one of my team mates that won it instead of someone else from a different school and just because only one of us got a state championship, we are all state champions because we did it as a team. No one did it alone and we were able to hang on because we are a tough team."
With a gold and silver medal in the books for the Panthers, the team title was won on the consolation side of the bracket as Snake River pounded out win after win, eventually collecting 9 individual medals out of the 16 wrestlers that earned state tournament berths.
"We almost led the tournament from gate to gate and we kept thinking wow, when are these other teams going to start catching us or when will we have a run of bad luck and the kids just kept winning," coach Gardner said. "They kept winning when they were supposed to, when they weren't supposed to and it was fun, a fun ride."
Mike Duff (215), Jesse Vogler (152) and Braden Beard (140) all came through the bottom half of the brackets for third place finishes while Jarad Smith (189) and Kaden Bench (103) each finished fourth on the podium.
Also earning Medals for the Panthers was Mark Bell (140) and Jacob Frost (103) who each grabbed sixth place finishes. Both of those wrestlers also lost to their own team mates earlier in the tournament.
The state title capped a memorable season indeed for the Men from Moreland as they christened their brand new wrestling room in honor of hall of fame wrestling coach Keith Williams and then followed that up with a banner that will be hung next to the state championship banners of seasons past.
"I think that we had great team leadership," coach Gardner said. "We had some great kids on this team that steered some of the younger kids in the right direction. They worked hard and these kids just wanted it. We've been pretty good all year and I think that they knew that they were pretty good and they believed that they had the potential to do it."