Four-peats don’t happen often in Class 4A.
The last big-school team to four-peat was Sheridan from 1990-93. Prior to that, it was Worland from 1924-27.
That’s it. For now.
In 2018, Sheridan could complete the third four-peat at the big-school level in Wyoming history. The Broncs have plenty of challenges facing them this year — among them the loss of a big senior class and an entire state’s worth of teams targeting them as the team to beat — but that doesn’t change the fact that Sheridan’s poised to make some history.
Four questions to answer
Will Sheridan win a fourth consecutive championship? The odds are good. If I had to guess, I’d say Sheridan’s odds were about 50/50 — it’s a 50 percent chance that Sheridan will win 4A, and a 50 percent chance the other nine programs combined have. The Broncs have a ton of new personnel and a new coach in Jeff Mowry, but they also have tradition, high expectations and momentum.
Who’s got the best shot to challenge Sheridan? No one knows. Honestly: No. One. Knows. In my interviews with 4A head coaches this summer, the definitive response to this question was seemingly “Uhhhh….” Now, coaches did say some teams are in the running. Kelly Walsh has a chance, maybe Natrona, maybe East, maybe Thunder Basin… but not a single coach could give a specific reason, outside of tradition, why any team other than Sheridan should be considered a legit contender for the 4A crown. And if you’re in Sheridan, that’s a good thing.
So who actually has the best shot? Kelly Walsh. If you cut through all the presuppositions, the team that’s unanimously on the rise is KW. Opposing coaches came away impressed with the Trojans’ performance last year, their ability to finally get a playoff victory (first since 2009) and the personnel that returns. If last year was a breakthrough, this year could be the start of a pattern.
Will new coaches at Sheridan and Cheyenne Central change 4A much? Not this year. Jeff Mowry in Sheridan learned from Don Julian for several years and likely will not mess with what’s working. And Mike Apodaca inherits a rebuilding project at Cheyenne Central that will take longer than a year to turn around completely. In five years, we may look back on this and see the start of something new, but for now, don’t expect too much boat-rocking.
Four players to watch
Parker Christensen, Sheridan. In July, Christensen verbally committed to the University of Wyoming. He earned that opportunity after running for 1,049 yards on just 98 carries (do the math and that’s 10.7 yards per carry). As one of the top running backs in the state, playing for the three-time defending champs, Christensen will have a huge responsibility ahead.
Brock Spiegelberg, Kelly Walsh. As KW shifted to a balanced running game, Spiegelberg piled up the stats. He ran for 1,399 yards and 17 touchdowns last year, and he’s Class 4A’s leading returning rusher. As the centerpiece of the Trojans’ offense, he could put up even bigger numbers this fall — and more importantly, lead KW deeper in the playoffs.
Zach Alexander, Cheyenne East. Alexander is preparing to enter his third year as East’s starting middle linebacker — an honor few 4A players could ever claim. As the centerpiece of the defense, he’s been a steady performer, and he’ll lead East’s defense in a wide-open 4A race.
Chase Brachtenbach, Natrona. Not too many players lead Natrona in defensive points as a junior, but that’s exactly what Brachtenbach did last season. The Mustangs’ leader in tackles for loss and sacks, Brachtenbach will be a key piece of a rebuilding Mustang defense.
Four key games
Thunder Basin at Cheyenne Central, Aug. 24. There’s probably not a 4A game on the schedule that has more questions than this one. How will Thunder Basin come back after losing a large chunk of seniors? How will Central play under new coach Mike Apodaca? Will either one be a surprise challenger? This game should help answer a lot of those queries.
Kelly Walsh at Cheyenne East, Aug. 31. If the Trojans want to be taken as a serious 4A title contender, they have to beat the Thunderbirds. East has beaten KW nine consecutive times, and KW hasn’t won at East since 2006. If the Trojans can get this one, they’ll be right in the thick of things.
Sheridan at Natrona, Sept. 7. Sheridan got the best of Natrona in both of their matchups, including the big one in the state title game. Both teams look to be contenders again this fall, so this early season matchup should set the pace for 4A for the rest of the season.
Natrona at Kelly Walsh, Oct. 5. This Oil Bowl could have higher stakes than any Oil Bowl in the past decade. Both the Mustangs and Trojans want to be in the title chase, and what better way to prove yourself than against your cross-town rival?
Predicted order of finish
Sheridan; Kelly Walsh; Natrona; Cheyenne East; Thunder Basin; Rock Springs; Cheyenne Central; Laramie; Cheyenne South; Gillette.
Way-too-early title game score prediction
Sheridan 34, Kelly Walsh 26. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the 4A ranks this year. What is clear, though, is that no one team has specifically risen up to give Sheridan a challenge for 4A supremacy. An undefeated state champion is unlikely, but Sheridan will remain the favorite until someone — anyone — proves they can knock the Broncs out of the king’s throne.
What do you think? I’ve got Sheridan down to win it all in November. Do you? Who’s the Broncs’ biggest challenger? Leave a comment, because I’ve got some thoughts and I want to work through them with you all.