Evanston Elite Wrestling shines at WAWA State
Triple Crowns for Roberts, Small; Moon, Shelton win titles
Asked how it felt to be a Triple Crown winner at last weekend’s WAWA State Championship in Casper, Gunnar Small — champion of the Folkstyle, Freestyle and Greco categories in the 8U division — was succinct in his response.
“It felt super-dooper good,” Small said.
Indeed it did.
In fact, it was a super-dooper good weekend all around for Small and his teammates of Evanston Elite Wrestling, 20 of whom descended on the Ford Wyoming Center for three days of intense competition against teams from around the state. Over 2,000 wrestlers from around the state — boys and girls — competed in three different styles over six different age divisions for the right to call themselves WAWA State Champions.
Evanston Elite finished the weekend with 33 medalists (10 in Folkstyle, 12 in Freestyle, 11 in Greco), including eight state champions (three in Folkstyle, two in Freestyle and three in Greco) and nine runners-up.
“I think the team did awesome,” said Brandon Day, coach and board president of Evanston Elite Wrestling. “I think the kids wrestled really well, and it was nice to see the season come together and the kids put together the skills that they’ve been working on all year. It’s awesome to see hard work pay off.”
Joining Small as a Triple Crown winner was Bridger Roberts, an eighth-grader at Evanston Middle School. Roberts swept the 149-pound 14U division, squaring off against teammate Zach Welling in the title match of all three styles, and marking both Roberts and Welling as a pair of wrestlers to watch as they join the Red Devils next year.
“In hindsight, I wish we would have split those two up, because had they been in different weight brackets, I think we would have had one more Triple Crown winner,” Day said of Roberts and Welling. “It was kind of bittersweet — you knew they were going to end up in the finals against each other, and there were tough kids in their bracket along the way. But they were handling business as they needed to. They’re friends outside of the wrestling room, practice partners in the wrestling room, so that was tough. But it was a wonderful problem to have.”
Also winning state championships for Evanston Elite were Tayson Moon in 14U Folkstyle at 83 pounds, and Keith Shelton in 16U Greco at 120 pounds.
“Tayson is a kid in the wrestling room that is an example to look to for the little kids,” Day said. “When it’s time to drill, he’s a kid you don’t have to give much guidance to. He’s another one with Bridger and Zach that will be fun to watch their high school careers develop.”
As for Shelton — who finished sixth in Folkstyle on Day 1, fourth in Freestyle on Day 2 and won Greco on Day 3 — Day said it was fun to watch his progression as the weekend unfolded.
“Keith was figuring it out as he went along — how to use emotion to help you, without it being a hindrance,” Day explained. “He’s another one that’s putting in the work now, because he can see what opportunities are to come.”
The WAWA State Championship Tournament began Friday at the Ford Wyoming Center in Casper, with Folkstyle wrestling. Evanston Elite Wrestling finished the day with 10 medalists, including three state champions.
Gunnar Small won his first of three state championships on the weekend in the 8U, 56-pound division, winning a 9-0 major decision over Casper Wrestling Club’s Weston Suek in the 1st Place Match.
Tayson Moon won the championship in the 14U, 83-pound division, with a 15-5 major decision over Camel Kids Wrestling’s Lucas Stirling in the title match.
In the first of what would become a trilogy of 1st Place Matches throughout the weekend, Bridger Roberts won the first of his three state titles with a pin of teammate Zach Welling in the 14U, 149-pound division.
“My strategy in Folkstyle, I just wrestled hard and used what I’ve been learning in practice,” Roberts said. “I think that really helped. For the other two styles, I had my brother [Red Devils wrestler Brady Roberts] there to help coach, so I really listened to him, and just wrestled smart.”
Placing second in Folkstyle for Evanston Elite was Welling in the 14U, 149-pound division and Kolby Hamilton in the 16U, 126-pound division.
Xander Kopp placed fifth for Evanston in the 12U, 98-pound division, as did Braunson Sims in the Junior, 145-pound division.
Rounding out the Evanston medalists in sixth place were David McCoy (14U, 149 pounds), Keith Shelton (16U, 120 pounds) and Sawyer Shelton (8U Girls, 55 pounds).
“Little Sawyer Shelton was the only girl athlete we had at state,” Day said. “She’s only been wrestling for 40 or 50 days. She didn’t see a lot of success on the mat, but has just been a great addition to the team — always happy, always excited, wants to do well, wants to push herself. That was neat to see, and fun to be part of.”
Day 2 of the WAWA State Championship saw Evanston Elite Wrestling place 12 wrestlers on the podium in Freestyle, including two champions and four runners-up.
Gunnar Small and Bridger Roberts continued on their quest for the Triple Crown, with Small making short work of Barrett Ehrich (Gladiator Wrestling Academy) in the 1st Place Match, pinning Ehrich in 14 seconds.
“Gunnar is a little wrestling beast,” Day said. “For a little kid, he’s well ahead of the curve. His goal all year long was to wrestle at state, and win all three styles. He put in the work, and he and Creed [Day] are little wrestling buddies, and it’s a battle with those two.”
Roberts squared off once again against teammate Zach Welling for the championship, in a match that came down to the wire. Roberts was able to take the lead with under a minute left in the match, and hold on for a 10-5 win.
Placing second in Freestyle for Evanston Elite was Kolby Hamilton (16U, 126 pounds), Welling (14U, 149 pounds), Tayson Moon (14U, 83 pounds) and Creed Day (10U, 49 pounds).
Braunson Sims placed third in the Junior, 145-pound division, while Keith Shelton (16U, 120 pounds) and Nixon Hamilton (10U, 53 pounds) placed fourth.
Kaden Shelton (14U, 83 pounds) and Mason Wagstaff (14U, 110 pounds) finished fifth in their respective classes, while Sawyer Shelton finished sixth in the 8U Girls 55-pound division.
The final day of the WAWA State Championship featured three more state champions in the Greco style for Evanston Elite Wrestling, and 11 total trips to the podium.
Gunnar Small and Bridger Roberts completed their Triple Crowns, with Small winning his final state championship with a 14-6 technical fall over Kasen Bonser (Bridger Valley Bruins Wrestling).
“I can’t put it into words how proud I am of Gunnar as a dad,” said Nick Small, assistant coach of Evanston Elite.” As a coach, he has worked very hard this year in the practice room. He has a great group of practice partners that push each other every day. Him and his teammates deserve all the success they have had this year.”
Roberts and Zach Welling locked horns for the final time at 149 pounds, with Roberts earning a technical fall, 13-4.
“Wrestling Zach definitely was interesting, battling it out in the finals every time,” Roberts said. “I changed things up a little — I knew I could make my moves less predictable if I just wrestled him like I never have. It made for great matches. Zach did great. I just really wanted that triple.”
Welling (14U, 149 pounds), Braunson Sims (Junior, 145 pounds) and Tayson Moon (14U, 83 pounds) finished second in their respective classes, while Creed Day finished third in the 10U, 49-pound division.
Kaden Shelton (14U, 83 pounds), Mason Wagstaff (14U, 110 pounds), Izek Middlemas (14U, 77 pounds) and Sawyer Shelton (8U Girls, 55 pounds) rounded out the medalists for Evanston Elite.
“The team did very well as a whole,” coach Small said. “Kids were peaking at the right time, and kids were competing with a never-give-up mentality. The wrestling season is a very long season, and to finish it off with success is good to see. We have a good group of kids and parents that support each other.”
“It’s been neat to see the kids follow each other around, and celebrate each other’s successes, both from the kids and the parents,” Day said. “Even in the stands, you have the same group of parents bouncing around that entire stadium, to cheer on every kid at every match. It’s been that same culture at every tournament, all year long. It’s awesome, how committed these kids are — not only to their own success, but to helping each other out.”