Defense continues to carry Pine Bluffs boys

An offense that possesses four guys who could go off on any given night is always a plus.

But if the Pine Bluffs boys want to build off their 7-2 start, defense will be the catalyst.

“I think that’s what we’re going to rely on a lot through the course of the year,” Pine Bluffs coach Pat Walter said. “But we also have to improve our decision making. We have to improve our ball handling and just being aggressive on the offensive end. We can’t let the other team’s defense dictate what we do on the offensive side of the ball.”

Still, anytime your team starts 7-2 you have to be pleased. You always want your team to improve. You always want your team to take advantage of the chances it has to give it the best chance possible to make a deep run in the state playoffs.

But Walter also knows this is the start he wanted from his Hornets. When the season started, he hoped he would get this start.

“Our offense has struggled at times,” Walter said. “But we’ve had some kids step up and come through for us.”

Now it’s just a matter of Pine Bluffs finding ways to continue that.

Pine Bluffs girls face real test

The Pine Bluffs girls basketball team sits at 7-2 on the season.

The Lady Hornets have had no real drop off from the start of the season. No, they didn’t want to come out of the winter break with a loss to Kimball, Neb.

At the same time, Pine Bluffs coach Bob Cochran can use that loss as motivation. No matter how good their start was, they have room to get even better.

“I think most of the reason we’ve had this start is we’ve played like a team,” he said. “And I think defensively we’re getting some things done that we want to get done. We’re getting some turnovers, and it’s causing us to get some easy points because of it. And we’ve played unselfish. For us to continue this in the second part of the season, we have to continue to do that.”

Nevertheless, Cochran is still pleased with how well his team has started the season.

“I thought we could start like this, but I didn’t know for sure,” he said. “With only having one senior, you didn’t know how that would work out. The underclassmen have taken a role to help out in that regard.”

One big area Cochran wants to sees his Hornets improve on is rebounding.

“It doesn’t seem like we do a good job of boxing out yet,” he said. “We can still get better offensively. I don’t think we’re running our sets like we want to. We’re getting better at it. I think we’re still kind of learning. But I do think we’ll get better in that area too. And if we do, we should have some success.”

Blog breakdown: Pine Bluffs

Pine Bluffs is a team full of confidence right now.

The Hornets qualified for the state playoffs for the first time since 2003 last season and they had a winning record at 5-4. If that wasn’t enough for this team to be excited about, it returns 11 players who contributed to the success.

“That was huge to even make the playoffs,” Pine Bluffs coach Dale Gilbert said. “We weren’t happy with how we played over in Cokeville. We just didn’t think that we played up to snuff. And I think a lot of that had to do with we had been absent from the playoffs for so long.
“They felt like they had reached a goal at some point. And now I think we have a group of kids that expect to make the playoffs. We expect to be competitive in the playoffs. And that’s a hard thing to do. You have to go in there and give them a taste of it before they can take that next step.”

Most across the state think the Hornets have a great shot of making the Class 1A state title game in Laramie come November.

En lieu of that optimism and the season starting Friday, here is a position-by-position breakdown of the Hornets for this season.

Quarterback
For the second straight season, Gilbert will call on his son, Blayne to run his offense.

Blayne enters the season full of confidence in both himself and his teammates. He knows what to expect from opposing defenses this season and he knows to expect from the offense. Last year he threw for over 1,100 yards with 16 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.

This season, Blayne wants to get even better.

“I just want to be more comfortable,” he said. “That’s the main thing, because in your first year of quarterback, you always have those jitters. Quarterbacks get a lot of open shots on them.
“But I’m really confident in the line that we have here. And we have an audible system, so I have to know everything from A to Z. I have to know that like the back of my hand. I’ve trained four years to do that, and I think I have the offense down pat to where I can do that.”

Running back
The loss of Chris Gorman is the biggest for this team. Last year, Gorman rushed for over 175 yards a game and gave Blayne and the offense that added element that opposing defenses had to think about and game-plan for.

Dale Gilbert has the utmost confidence in senior Austin Lang to replace Gorman. Unlike Gorman, Lang is more crafty and has more speed. He will do his damage outside the tackles, while Gorman did his between the tackles.

“Austin gives us an added dimension in our running game,” Gilbert said. “We lose a little size with Austin compared to what we had with Chris. But he’s a very gifted zone runner. So we’re excited that he’s in the mix, too.”

Wide receivers
Experience and talent. That is the name of the game for the Pine Bluffs wide outs this season.

They are led by seniors Ryan May and Nolan Jeffres.

“With the receiving core that we have this year, Blayne could throw for even more than 1,100 yards this season,” Gilbert said. “Those guys are another year older. They’re more experienced. They came into camp bigger and faster. Our receiving core is really tough right now. It’s really a toss up who the No. 1 guy is for us.”

Offensive line
Like the receivers, the Pine Bluffs offensive line has experience and talent. The one aspect that could surprise some folks this season is the size and speed they have.
Gilbert has confidence his hogs up front have the ability to both open holes for Lang and give Blayne time to throw the ball – and do so well.

Defensive line
One of the guys to keep an eye on this season is Blayne. He’s big and fast. That goes for the whole defensive line – they are big and fast.

“I think all of those kids started at least one game along the D-Line last year,” Dale Gilbert said. “So they’re pretty experienced.”

Linebackers
Pine Bluffs has three really experienced backers this season who will be able to get pressure on the quarterback, plug the gaps for the running game and cover any receivers over the middle.

“The three guys that we have this season were all starters in the system somewhere last season,” Dale said. “So that really helps us out.”

Secondary
May and Jeffres will lead the secondary as well as the receivers for the Hornets. Gilbert said these two guys will lead whoever lines up at the defensive back positions. And like on the offensive side of the ball, Gilbert expects May and Jeffres to make plays.

Talk about road woes

A team starting its season with what its coach deems one of the worst performances in school history is typically a cause for concern, but Pine Bluffs volleyball coach Lisa Gilbert gave her team a pass in its loss to Dubois on Friday at the Saratoga Invitational.

Pine Bluffs’ bus broke down near the Lincoln Monument on Interstate 80 about 10 miles east of Laramie on Friday afternoon. The delay meant the Hornets had to get dressed on the bus and had very little time to stretch their legs and get warmed up before squaring off with Dubois. Gilbert called the delay a “fiasco,” but said her team rebounded well.

It won the rest of its matches and took the tournament title.

“We couldn’t do anything right in that first match and the girls were completely out of sync,” Gilbert said. “After they got their bearings, they settled down and we played better as the tournament went on. For having such a shaky beginning, we had a really strong finish.”

Shrine Bowl reflections

The Shrine Bowl is always a fun and difficult event to cover and this year was no exception.

The fun part is seeing many of the state’s best high-school football players strap it up and square off against each other in a North-South game. There’s always a good crowd — even when it’s really cold and rainy like it was Saturday — and that crowd fervently aligns with whichever side their school is on.

The tough part comes in the time the game ends, the abundance of unnecessary people overflowing the booth at Casper Natrona County High’s Cheney Alumni Field and taking table space away from working media, finding the players you need to interview in the swell of people that flow onto the field after the game and getting over my own desire not to interrupt those players while they chat up their family and friends.

This year’s Shrine Bowl was the best of the four or five I’ve covered during my time at the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. It ended 27-26 with Cody’s Matt Frost kicking a 34-yard field goal with less than 47 seconds remaining to give the North the win. Frost had never attempted a field goal or point-after touchdown prior to Shrine Bowl practice, but also made a 41-yard field goal and both extra-points Saturday. Not too shabby.

The game featured five lead changes and the series is now tied 17-17-3.

South quarterback Wesley Padilla of Rock Springs was the game’s offensive most valuable player, while Hulett’s Leland Pfeifer won defensive MVP honors from the North team. Those two just so happen to be the players I voted for.

However, it could have been a clean sweep from the North had the media, statisticians and other folks in the booth not submitted their ballots with about four minutes remaining. I say that because Sheridan quarterback Austin Woodward helped lead the North to victory by completing three passes for 57 yards on the final drive, including two to Natrona’s Taylor Villegas for 52 yards. Woodward’s numbers were comparable to Padilla’s and his team won. Villegas caught five passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. However, he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on the fourth play of the game-winning drive.

Wheatland’s Tyler Smart was my second choice for defensive MVP. He finished with nine tackles (five solo) while playing linebacker and covering kicks for the South squad.

Saturday’s was a really exciting game and one I was glad I was assigned to cover.

More unpublished material: The wrestling edition

Much of the following state wrestling capsules made it into the print edition of today’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle. However, the “About …” section of each team capsule had to be cut so we could fit the remainder of our prep sports coverage into today’s paper. So here are the full state wrestling capsules for Cheyenne Central, Cheyenne East, Cheyenne South, Burns-Pine Bluffs and Wheatland.

Class 4A
Cheyenne Central


Last season: Fourth place

Returning state placers: Six

Regional champs: 130 Leandro Arias, jr.; 145 Austin Breckenridge, jr.; 152 Bob Helmerick, sr.; 171 Hayden Jones, sr.

Other regional placers: Second, 125 Joe Baca, sr.; 160 Matt Spoon, sr.; Third, 103 Austin Vye, so.; 119 Bailey McHenry, fr.; 189 Taelor Prado, sr.; Fourth, 103 Mike Nelson, so.; 130 Logan Guidry, so.; 135 Chris Nelson, sr.; 140 Tucker Collins, sr.; 215 Russ Bowlin, sr.; 285 Ryan Kuster, sr.

Other qualifiers: 112 Alex Brown, fr.; 119 Tim Scherdon, so.; 125 Brayden Sosa, so.; 135 Dillon Karajanis, sr.; 140 Kendall Nuss, jr.; 145 Mike Hughes, jr.; 152 Ethan Birt, sr.; 160 John Beedle, sr.; 189 James Fossett, fr.; 215 Leon Romero, jr.; 285 Ken Rushing, jr.

About the Indians: Arias, Breckenridge and Jones all wrestled for state titles last year. Only Breckenridge walked away a winner, becoming Central’s first state champ since 2001. … Karajanis is wrestling with a broken left hand. He clinched his state berth by winning his first match at the East Regional in Casper. He defaulted the rest of his bouts but will wrestle at state. … Arias has lost just one match this season.

Cheyenne East

Last season: Sixth

Returning state placers: One

Regional champs: 215 Cheyton Vermillion, sr.; 285 Jacob Edwards, jr.

Other regional placers: Second, 103 Blaze Cress, fr.; 119 Jordan Puente, sr.; 189 Taran Triplett, sr.; Third, 112 Lance Kailey, so.; Fourth, 119 Hayes Stone, fr.; 160 Tanner Hinds, jr.

Other qualifiers: 103 Tanner Wickham, fr.; 112 Darien Briggs, fr.; 125 Kyle Rose, jr.; 125 Luis Reyes, fr.; 130 Blake Hanzlik, so.; 130 Trevor Brower, so.; 135 Isaac Gonzalez, fr.; 152 Nick Haller, jr.; 152 Corey Nelson, so.; 160 Christian Robinson, fr.; 171 Blaine Backman, sr.; 171 Brian Schaefer, so.; 189 Gared Krakow, fr.; 285 D.J. Doolin, jr.

About the Thunderbirds: East does not have an entrant in the 140- and 145-pound classes. … Edwards and junior Dalton Nelson are the only Thunderbirds to place at last year’s state. Nelson spent the winter dealing with a shoulder injury that eventually ended his season. … East coach Dan Ley considers senior 119-pounder Jordan Puente one of the most dangerous wrestlers in the tournament. He also thinks sophomore Lance Kailey (112 pounds) could make some noise.

Class 3A
Cheyenne South


Last season: First-ever state tourney

State qualifiers: 119 Erik Fair, fr.; 152 Tyler Colley, fr.; 171 Che Roberts, fr.; 189 R.J. Nelson, fr.

About the Bison: Fair was 2-2 at the Class 3A East Regional while Colley was 1-2. … Fair’s first round opponent is Wheatland’s Shawn Zavala, who was second at the East Regional. … Colley drew top-seeded Jimmy Seckman of Powell in the fist round. … South is the third-smallest team in the tourney. Class 2A Kaycee and Wind River only have three entrants each.

Wheatland

Last season: Fourth

Returning state placers: Four

Regional champs: 145 Tyler Smart, sr.; 160 Dustin Finnerty, sr.

Other regional placers: Second, 119 Shawn Zavala, jr.; Third, 189 Tyler Tillman, sr.; 215 Travis Jenkins, sr.; Fourth, 103 Jhett Eike, fr.; 125 Joel Dappen, jr.; 135 Dillon Cotterman, jr.; 140 Ceasar Zavala, fr.

Other qualifiers: 112 Chaz McAuley, so.; 119 R.J. Schmidl, jr.; 125 Layne Eike, jr.; 130 Andrew Blumer, jr.; 135 Ben Sanderson, jr.; 145 David Chesser, so.; 171 Quinn Zimmerman, jr.; 189 Chase Irvine, fr.; 285 Chuck Maike, sr.

About the Bulldogs: Dappen, Finnerty, Smart and Tillman all medaled last year. Dappen and Tillman were fourth; Finnerty and Smart were sixth.

Class 2A
Burns-Pine Bluffs


Last season: 19th

Returning state placers: None

Regional placers: Second, 215 Todd Baker, sr.; Fourth, 160 Frank Vossler, sr.

Other qualifiers: 112 Grady Mikesell, so.; 119 Trenton Culp, so.; Jacob Miller, fr.; 152 Travis Herrington, fr.; 189 Shawn Cole, jr.; 189 Adan Gandara, jr.

About the Broncs: Baker, Cole and Gandara have qualified for the past three state tourneys. … Baker and Gandara won two matches each at last year’s state to account for four of the Broncs’ six wins.

Hometown heroes Part 1

Occasionally, we’ll do a feature called Hometown Heroes where we catch up with a former area high-school athlete having success at the college level. Obviously, we can’t always remember every area athlete, what school they’re at and what sport they’re playing.

 

Here’s the list of local athletes playing college basketball that I came up with off the top of my head.

 

Jasmine Belin, Cheyenne East, Casper College

Desmond Blue, Cheyenne Central, Lee University (Cleveland, Tenn.)

Seth Ganison, Cheyenne East, redshirting at Laramie County Community College

Lindsey Fearing, Cheyenne Central, Casper College

Tyler Kimzey, Pine Bluffs, Laramie County Community College

Lara Merritt, Cheyenne East, University of Northern Colorado (Greeley)

Tom Parks, Cheyenne Central, Youngstown State University (Ohio)

Kaleb Rehmer, Cheyenne East, South Dakota School of Mines (Rapid City)

Trey Stephens, Cheyenne Central, Presentation College (Aberdeen, S.D.)

Travis Werner, Pine Bluffs, redshirting at Laramie County Community College

 

Did I miss anybody?

Talent pool hits Eastern Laramie County

On my two trips out to Burns and Pine Bluffs, it is apparent that both girls basketball teams will contend for the Class 2A state title this season.
The Lady Broncs and Lady Hornets know what they have to do to have success, and they do it.
They don’t do any more or any less than that. Plus, the two teams listen to their respective coaches.
That tells me as situations arise as the season goes on, they are open to being coached. And that, more than anything else, is what leads me to think as I do.
What gives Burns a slight edge over its bitter rival is experience.
The Broncs have gone through this before when they finished third at state a season ago.
You can tell their loss to eventual state champ Big Horn serves as their motivation to make sure this season turns out different.
Burns plays in your face defense, forces turnovers and has a balanced offensive attack.
On any given night, the Broncs have four players who can score. The mix of those three things makes for a dangerous team.
Now, whether that means Burns will win a state title this season, I don’t know.
As for the Hornets, it’s just a matter of gaining experience and growing as a team, as cliche as it sounds.
The thing Pine as going for it is it has talent and depth.
At the same time, those are the same things Burns possesses.
I don’t know who will win the Class 2A state title this season, but from what I’ve seen, both of these teams will have a say in who does.

Class 1A football playoff: Pine Bluffs follow up

I was able to include a lot of quotes from Pine Bluffs coach Dale Gilbert in my story about his team’s 40-14 loss Monday at Cokeville. However, there also was a lot I wasn’t able to use. Here are some other nuggets from my talk with Gilbert.

On difficulty stopping the Panthers on third down
“We missed some tackles. (Cokeville) had a couple drives where it was third and long and we had kids in the right spot, but we missed tackles. (Panthers’ running back Chance Maddock) ran hard and ran behind his pads and got away from us a couple times. I have to give them credit, they converted two third downs on this drives where it looked like we had them.”

Close calls
“We had a passes on some hitch routes that were called incomplete. We threw them low and inside and I thought our kids got under them, but we just didn’t get the calls. That’s going to happen too.”

A 13-play, 86-yard drive was good drive, but it took too much time of the clock
The Hornets’ final touchdown came on a 13-play, 86-yard drive that pulled them within 12 points in the fourth quarter. Gilbert liked what he saw on the drive, but it needed to be quicker.

“We used too much time on that drive and it’s unfortunate. We’ve got an audible built in where if the linebacker is cheating to the line, we switch to a pass. Or, if he’s playing away from the line, we can audible to a run. I’m not going to cuss our kids for trying to make the right audible at the right time.”

Reflection
“I thought the kids did a great job. Chris (Gorman) ended up with more than 1,600 rushing yards this season. Offensively, we came a long way. Defensively, I thought our run stop defense was pretty good in the second half (against Cokeville). They had to go to the air to score against us.”