The COVID-19 pandemic altered youth sports every which way. From the implementation of mass weekly testing to daily temperature checks, athletes have been subjected to strict health policies. Contact sports, such as wrestling, were hit especially hard. High school wrestling was turned upside-down by a list of strict expectations.
Last year wrestlers were restricted to only three matches a week. They had to shower between each match and change their singlets. Everybody competed at the varsity level, as there were no opportunities for junior varsity competition. They practiced with masks on, and were stepping on metaphorical eggshells each day. Fears of shutting down the program ran rampant at Jackson Hole, for just one positive test could end the season.
This year co-coaches Ryan Castagno and Adam Orton believe their team has the opportunity to start anew. This season’s squad of Broncs wrestlers is fairly young with 13 out of 14 competitors being freshmen and sophomores. With the ability to have his athletes compete at the appropriate level, Castagno has his mind set on establishing a committed group he hopes to develop on the mat.
“We just want to keep them together,” Castagno said. “We have a lot who start and then quit. It’s hard. It’s not for everybody.”
Both coaches have spent over 10 years coaching wrestling in the valley, from youth to club to high school, experiencing the sport at each and every level. They have seen athletes come and go over the years, but the lone senior on the team, Ryan Ransom, has stuck with the sport for the majority of his life, with Castagno and Orton by his side. His infectious personality and dominance on the mat reflect the true characteristics of a leader. Ransom has high hopes for his budding teammates this year, and wants them “to go out there and have fun because that’s what wrestling’s about.”
Ransom lost just one round before placing in last year’s state tournament, ultimately feeding his goal of seeing the podium come February. His championship ideology is simple: Practice makes perfect.
“That’s all you can do,” Ransom said. “I think wrestling is just one of those things where all you can do is practice to perfect the art.”
This past weekend, Broncs wrestlers traveled to Evanston for their first tournament of the season. For Orton the season opener is always a nailbiter, as the detailed preparation is typically rushed. “There’s so much information they need to know in so little time,” Orton said. “There’s a lot of technical stuff we want to get done prior to the first tournament.”
However, even with just two weeks of training the Broncs came out incredibly strong this past Friday with seven wrestlers placing in the top 5 of their bracket, which Castagno considers to be “a really great start.”
Sophomore Kaden Neild finished at first in his bracket while fellow teammates Brennan McGowan, Logan Ward, and Cruz Fourre all finished second in their individual brackets.
In the 4A preseason rankings, Ransom ranked third at 220 pounds. He finished this weekend in the No. 3 spot in his bracket. Sophomore Justin Castagno ranked seventh in the preseason poll at 182 pounds.
Following last year’s season, Castagno underwent serious surgery for a condition called pectus excavatum, a medical complication in which an person’s breastbone sinks into the chest. He had a titanium bar fixed into his chest to support his sternum and battled a brutal recovery. Castagno was faced with some discouraging news this week — the bar had bent and shifted, meaning he will miss the remainder of his sophomore wrestling season.
Despite complications, the future of Broncs wrestling is here, as Castagno and Orton are striving to develop the program. In January the Broncs plan to host the biggest home tournament the school has seen in over 10 years with at least five teams in attendance. For now the preparation process is week-to-week, with the desire to bring as many wrestlers to the state tournament as possible.
“We all do it to get to state. We want everybody to get better and to have fun,” Orton said.
The Broncs travel to Kemmerer next weekend for another taste of competition and a chance to exhibit their budding talents. The match is set for 10 a.m.