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Panthers hope for improved campaign with returners

A 10th place finish last season has the Powell High School wrestling team aiming higher heading into the 2022-23 season, with the Panthers returning 66 of the team’s 78 points scored at state last year.

This year’s team returns its top two finishers from last year in Jimmy Dees who placed fourth at 195 pounds and Weston Thomas who placed fifth at 113 pounds.

The primary point earner the Panthers lost from last year’s team is Karson Lamb who placed sixth at 182 pounds.

Outside of those top placers the Panthers boast 41 wrestlers on this year’s roster, including all but two of the team’s state qualifiers last season.

With so much experience returning to this year’s roster, coach Nick Fulton is hoping for an improved record this season for his team.

“This has been a good group so far, they are working hard and having fun,” Fulton said. “We had quite a few kids wrestle in the offseason… They got some mat time in and the attitude and work ethic have been good.”

He said that some of those kids have been wrestling through USA Wrestling as well as traveling abroad to compete.

Fulton said the team is working hard to ensure the team is competing in the right weight classes in order to maximize the potential of the team early in the season.

“I think we have a lot of potential starting out and I think we have a lot of potential for growth,” Fulton said. “We have a nice mix this year of some real veterans, senior guys that have been wrestling on varsity for a few years. That is nice and hopefully this year should pay off for them, but we have pretty good junior and sophomore classes with a lot of numbers. Our freshman class is starting to pick things up but (is) few in numbers.”

He said that with all of these athletes he feels the team will be more balanced this year after having only four seniors a year ago.

Class 3A will have one less familiar face this season, with seven-time defending champions Star Valley moving up to 4A and Evanston moving down to take its place.

“Evanston is coming down and returns a few medalists,” Fulton said. “We get to make a lovely trip down to Evanston for regionals but that’s a long way down the road.”

A new addition for wrestling this season is a state tournament exclusively for girls, with two girls joining the Panther team this season.

One athlete competing will be a familiar face in senior Yessenia Teague who has been a part of the team for four years.

“I’m awfully excited for her to have the opportunity to compete against other women,” Fulton said. “She works hard and does the right things so that is a great opportunity for her. We will see how that shakes out but I think she has as good a chance as anybody.”

The second competitor for Powell on the girls’ side will be freshman Allison LeBlanc, who is looking to make her mark in her first season.

Fulton will return his coaching staff from the past few years, and has former alumni coming back to help coach the kids en route to what they hope is an improved 2022 campaign.

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Powell continues his annual tradition of hosting the first tournament of the year on Friday and Saturday, welcoming in 26 teams from around Montana and Wyoming from various classes.

“I am as excited as I have been in a long time,” Fulton said. “There is going to be a lot of wrestling here and a lot of quality teams.”

Fulton said he wants his team to go out and shine on the home mat, with some athletes competing for top spots while some will be getting their first taste of varsity wrestling.

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