Note: This is the seventh and final in a series of stories about some of Wyoming’s biggest high school sports underdogs.

Kemmerer’s boys basketball came into the 1977 Class A West Regional tournament after an 8-10 regular season that was beset with injury and inconsistency.

Somehow, the Rangers won three straight at regionals and carried that momentum to win three straight at state, a six-game run that no one expected, least of all the Rangers.

The Rangers played well against good teams but struggled against not-so-good teams, said John Scott, who was a senior on the team and now is the head football coach at Lander.

“We rode the tides,” Scott said. “When things were up, we looked great, but when they were down we looked terrible.”

The team was also adjusting to new coach Glenn Murray, who came to Kemmerer straight after college after growing up in Potsdam, New York. Previously, the Rangers had been coached by Vince Guinta and Todd Dayton, two hall-of-fame coaches in their own right who were in many ways opposites in their approaches — Guinta in-your-face, Dayton composed.

Murray fused the talent and the coaching styles to get the most from his players in Kemmerer. However, that fusion didn’t come until the postseason.

Entering the regional tournament, the Rangers knew they could play well, but Scott said “it wasn’t like we said, ‘Hey, this is our last chance,’ any of those ‘Hoosier’-type stories.”

Instead, the Rangers didn’t over-think, and Murray didn’t over-coach. Kemmerer won three straight, beating a two-loss Lovell team in the semifinals and then handing defending Class A champion Star Valley its first loss to a Wyoming team that season in the championship.

“And then we’re the regional champs, regional champs at 11-10,” Scott said. “I think it was the first time all year we were over .500.”

Even after winning the West Regional, Kemmerer was still an underdog.

Glenrock entered the tournament at 19-1 and was, along with defending champion Star Valley, the pre-tournament favorite.

Kemmerer drew Buffalo in the first round, playing a game that started at 10 p.m. in the university’s Fieldhouse in Laramie. The Rangers started slow and trailed by eight midway through the third quarter. Then Kemmerer kicked into gear, using a full-court press to rally and win 65-60.

The Rangers played Lovell, again at 10 p.m., in the semis, a rematch of the regional semifinal. Lovell was a tough draw, as the Bulldogs were the only team to beat Glenrock during the regular season and were keen on some revenge after losing to the Rangers the previous week. And it showed, as — much like what happened the night before against Buffalo — Lovell built a 10-point lead during the late stages of the third quarter.

Again, Kemmerer rallied, pressing the Bulldogs into defensive oblivion and winning 72-65.

Clearly, the Rangers were peaking at the right time. But the biggest challenge was yet to come; Glenrock, as expected, awaited in the championship.

Scott said he recalled stepping onto the court at the UW Fieldhouse for that title game with a decided lack of certainty.

“They’re warming up and they’re really sleek-looking,” he said. ” … They all wore a boutonniere on their warmup and they just looked really confident.”

But that uncertainty quickly turned into motivation. After seeing the Herders on the other side of half-court, “I think we just kind of felt we had nothing to lose,” Scott said.

The championship game, another 10 p.m. Fieldhouse start, was the opposite of the first two games, with Kemmerer jumping out early and Glenrock rallying in the third quarter. The Herders crept within three, but Kemmerer continued its trend of playing its best when it mattered most. Thanks to clutch foul shooting and a stalwart defensive effort, the Rangers held off the Herders, 70-59.

Just like that, the team that had stumbled to an 8-10 regular-season record was the Class A champion. The Kemmerer team was one of only a small handful of Wyoming basketball teams to have a losing record in the regular season only to win a state championship.

So what changed?

The first was health.

Mark Dolar was the leading scorer for the Rangers in each of their tournament games, scoring 22 in the title game. He had 21 in the semifinals and 22 in the opening round. Injuries, including to Dolar, dogged the team in the regular season, but by regionals everyone was healthy.

Aside from the health of the team, Scott also said the team’s mentality changed once winning became the priority. When the Rangers won, they did so as a team; when the Rangers lost, they looked at their individual play.

“Those (individual) things kind of always took precedence when we were losing… and (the mentality) was, ‘Well, at least I scored this many,'” he said.

To date, it’s Kemmerer’s only state basketball championship, boys or girls.

Scott, now the head football coach at Lander after a few stops around the state and some time as the head coach at Black Hills State, said the players from that championship team remain close 45 years later.

“As a coach, I think that’s why those championships really do mean so much,” Scott said. “It’s not the on-field stuff. It’s afterward. … We still own that (championship). It’s ours. That’s the aftermath of what you tell a kid and why you (commit)… Whether it’s (a 3A championship) or the Super Bowl.”

–patrick

Note: This is the second in a series of stories about some of Wyoming’s biggest high school sports underdogs.

Team photo of the Lingle girls basketball team from 2006.
Team photo of the Lingle girls basketball team from 2006. Courtesy of the Lingle-Fort Laramie High School yearbook.

The Lingle girls basketball team won the 2006 Class 1A championship by the thinnest of margins — a phrase that can be defined in two different ways.

First, the scores: Lingle won its three state tournament games by a combined five points, which is a state record — no other Wyoming team has won a state basketball title with such a slim combined margin in its three tournament games.

Second, the shot: Lingle’s championship-winning shot in its 32-31 victory against Encampment, a 3-pointer at the buzzer from senior point guard Lindsay Worley, survived on its trajectory only after barely sailing past a defender’s outstretched hand on its way to the hoop.

Together, behind those final scores and that final shot, the Doggers put together one of the more improbable championship runs ever seen at a state basketball tournament.

The fact that Lingle was a noted underdog in each of its three state tournament games, too, makes the run all that more memorable, more than 16 years after it happened.

In what looked like a two-team race between Guernsey and Encampment to the title, the Doggers unexpectedly beat both pre-tournament favorites.

Worley, speaking this summer from her home in Wisconsin, said it felt like the Doggers won two championships that weekend. The first came in the semifinals, when undefeated Guernsey — constantly Lingle’s undoing — fell to the Doggers. The next came in the actual championship game, where Lingle knocked off two-time defending champion Encampment and Worley’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer provided the final margin.

“Nobody was banking on us to win the state championship game,” Worley said, “and that was like, the biggest upset.”

But before the title game came two other close games for Doggers, who came into the 2006 state tournament as the No. 3 seed from the East Regional. Lingle had barely won its third-place game at regionals by eking out a 65-63 victory against Kaycee — a portend of things to come.

In the first round at state, the 16-9 Doggers played 17-5 Farson, which was No. 2 out of the West and had nearly beaten Encampment the week before in the West Regional championship.

Lingle’s state championship run nearly ended there. The Doggers gave away a 14-point fourth-quarter lead, and Farson tied the game late. But Angela Ostrander hit a free throw with 2.6 seconds remaining, the last of her game-high 23 points, and Lingle survived and advanced, 51-50.

Up next? Those pesky, undefeated Vikings from Guernsey. The Vikings entered the game 25-0, rarely challenged and twice victors over Lingle in the regular season, including a 23-point victory against the Doggers just two weeks prior. This was a Guernsey team loaded with talent and athleticism, proven not only by the zero in the loss column but by their 1A volleyball championship — in which they beat Lingle in the title match — that fall.

But the rivalry went deeper than that, Worley said, all the way back to middle school.

“I just remember Guernsey always kicked our butts, every single year,” she said.

But Lingle matched Guernsey’s energy and chemistry, finally overcoming their nemesis neighbors and ending the Vikings’ undefeated season with a 56-53 victory.

“Our energy as a team, we were just not giving up,” Worley said. “It just switched. It was amazing how we all came together in that game.”

After the semifinal victory, the exhausted but elated Lingle team faced yet another challenge: Encampment, which was 21-4 and on the brink of a third consecutive championship, something that had never been accomplished at the 1A girls level in Wyoming.

“We weren’t nervous,” Worley said. “We were just excited, excited we made it to the championship game.”

Encampment’s methodical style was in sharp contrast to Guernsey’s running style the night before. In a pace Worley said was “crawling,” Encampment maintained control early.

“We were struggling as a team because they were defending really tight on our post side,” Worley said “That was our goal — our goal was to beat Encampment in the paint, but they were defending really well on the post.”

Down seven in the third quarter, though, the Doggers finally broke through and found some offensive and defensive consistency. Not much, but enough. So, Lingle rallied. And rallied. And rallied. Eventually, the Doggers pulled within two, at 31-29.

Down by that margin with 8 seconds remaining and 94 feet to go, Worley said the coach’s plan was to feed the post and play for overtime. But 31 minutes and 52 seconds of game play made Worley aware that the plan was tenuous.

“The way that Encampment was defending, they were just all over our post, and it never would have worked,” she said.

So as the huddle broke, and as the ball made its way upcourt in her teammates’ possession, Worley said “something, for me mentally just clicked, and I just needed the ball in my hands.”

She started calling for the ball, then clapping. Loudly. This was going to be her shot to take.

A teammate saw her near the top of the key and gave her the chance she was looking for. No time to think — Worley caught and shot, well beyond the 3-point line but still only millimeters over the outstretched arms of Encampment’s Kally Custis.

“That’s why the arc of the ball was so high. I remember shooting up and over her hand,” Worley said. ” … I just knew it was going in. I knew that was one of my strengths at the time. I was a shooter, and the shooter wants the ball.”

Worley’s 3-pointer beat the buzzer, and Lingle had just won its first modern girls state basketball championship by the thinnest of those two margins — a one-point, 32-31 victory that came on a shot that survived being blocked by less than a fingertip.

The realization of the significance of the shot came quickly for Worley, who looked up into the celebrating crowd and saw her father, tears in his eyes. Soon after, the two found each other, and Worley’s dad hugged her as dads do when they can’t contain their excitement, picking her up and twirling her around.

For Worley, who played her senior season only after recovering from back-to-back knee injuries, the championship was the closure of one chapter of her life. But she did take some time to soak in what she could and enjoy it.

“I was riding high for a full week after that,” Worley said.

Worley’s basketball career ended with that shot. She found her passion in health and fitness, a career she has pursued for the past 14 years. After getting her master’s degree in public health from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, Worley is now working as a heath educator, wellness coordinator and trainer at a manufacturing company in Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, the Doggers’ run from Worley’s senior year remains a testament to the unpredictable nature of sports, exemplifying how an entire team can dance on the edge of failure multiple times and still find success through good fortune, opportune timing and the right attitude in the game-defining moment.

–patrick

Note: This is the first in a series of stories about some of Wyoming’s biggest high school sports underdogs.

The Reliance boys basketball team from 1949. Photo courtesy of the 1949 Reliance High School yearbook.
Top row: Coach Jack Smith, Ronald Wilson, Robert Burns, Tony Tsakakis, Everett Hernandez, John Fortuna, George “Bud” Nelson, Stan Kouris, Claude Thomas, Walter Sawick, assistant coach Thomas Manatos.
Bottom row: Manager Henry Telck, George Jelaco, Michael Fresques, James Rafferty, William Strannigan, Ernest Mecca, Spiro Varras.

The Reliance High School basketball team from 1949, one of the most remarkable teams ever fielded in Wyoming history, has two big claims to fame.

The first, most obvious, is the smaller of the two accomplishments: A team from a high school with 94 students played with Wyoming’s big schools and nearly pulled off a basketball championship run for the ages, finishing as the state’s runners-up during a magical week in March.

The second reason why the Pirates of 1949 are so special goes well beyond the scores of games played more than 70 years ago, stretching into communities and lives across the state and country. Of the 15 players in the team picture, three (plus a fourth freshman not in the photo) went on to become inductees into the inaugural class elected to the Wyoming Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Several others became coaches and educators in Wyoming. Also in the mix were boys would become an oceanographer, a doctor, a civic leader, a Naval weapons specialist and more — a collection of leaders who shaped countless lives. They were inspired by a coach who left a noticeable impression on their lives.

THE SEASON

It seems odd that a team that would produce so many coaching legends would come from a town and a school with such little hardwood success. To put it bluntly, Reliance did not have a rich basketball history. Aside from trips to the state tournament in 1929 and 1930, when all teams no matter their record could play, the Pirates’ only other visit to state came in 1942, when the Pirates rallied from a first-round loss to win the consolation championship.

In 1948, the year before their memorable run at state, Reliance finished a paltry 11-14 but had shown promise in the regional tournament, upsetting Rawlins in the first round and nearly beating Kemmerer in a state play-in game before losing 33-32.

The following season, the Pirates had shown they were an improved team under coach Jack Smith, but they still looked far from championship material. Reliance was competitive during the regular season, finishing 14-9 and going 11-4 in conference play, good enough to finish second in the nine-team Class AA/A Southwest District. (Incidentally, the Pirates also played well at home, in a “crackerbox” gym that needed two 10-second lines because the court’s length was too short to be regulation.) Reliance reached state by finishing second in the Southwest District tournament; their one-point loss to top seed Rock Springs in the title game was proof, though, that the Pirates could play with the state’s best.

This realization came even though the Pirates were not blessed with the one thing that usually guarantees success in basketball, height. The starting five of senior Spiro Varras and juniors Stan Kouris, Bud Nelson, Michael Fresques and George Jelaco were built for hunching in coal mines, not posting up on the block.

“We were really small,” Nelson said. “We had one person that was over 6 feet tall. I was the center and I was 5-11.

“We didn’t have much height, but we had a lot of fight.”

The size of the school itself, not just its players, was another handicap, another one Reliance was determined to overcome.

With a senior class of 18 students and a 9-12 student body of 94 (according to a count from the school’s 1949 yearbook), the Pirates were one of the smallest schools in Wyoming’s Class A ranks. At the time, Wyoming basketball only had two classifications — A and B — as four-classification play with classes of AA, A, B and C was still three years away. The dividing line between Class A and Class B was an enrollment of 100 students. Riding the edge of that line, Reliance played against Wyoming’s biggest boys from its biggest schools, including some schools more than 10 times their size, despite having only double-digit numbers walking the halls.

In fact, John Fortuna, a senior on the 1949 team, said the Reliance superintendent probably lied in reporting the school’s enrollment to keep the Pirates in Class A.

But Reliance was used to the challenge, and they knew how to handle it.

“Most of what made our team click was aggressiveness and desire and to believe in that we could win,” Nelson said. “People will look at us and kind of laugh at us, like a car of midgets drove up to the basketball court… but we had the desire to win so much, that made up for us being so small.”

When the state tournament came around, that desire wasn’t yet on display for the state to see. Reliance wasn’t given much of a chance to get out of the first round, much less make a deep run.

Up first was Worland, which had finished third in the Northwest District tournament but had 19 victories on the season, including one against mighty Casper Natrona. The Pirates weren’t fazed; Fresques scored 12, Kouris 10 and Varras nine, and Reliance won 43-35.

Next up: Cheyenne.

This is where the dream had to end, right? After all, the Indians represented the state’s biggest school and, at the time, its biggest basketball dynasty.

Entering the 1949 season, Cheyenne and coach Okie Blanchard had won six of the past seven state basketball championships. The Indians had their struggles in 1949, sure, but still came into the game against Reliance with 18 victories, a Southeast District tournament championship, momentum from a 27-point first-round victory against Gillette and a student body significantly larger than that of the Pirates. (The 1949 Cheyenne yearbook shows 829 students in grades 10-12.)

The game wasn’t even close — and not in the way that most expected. Reliance dominated Cheyenne in every possible way. Kouris had 10 and Nelson, Varras and Jelaco had eight apiece, no Cheyenne player had more than five, and the Pirates won 44-27.

“They were much bigger, but we were quicker,” Varras said. “We pressed, and we had a bunch of guys that were just really tough. And the pressure got to (Cheyenne). Their coach told our coach later, ‘I’d trade two of our big guys for one of your scrappers.'”

That was the game that turned the state’s attention to the little team that could.

Now one of the final four, Reliance was among a set of giant-killers. Little-regarded Lusk beat Northwest District tournament champion Cody in the second round, while at the same time Lovell had beaten Rock Springs — the team that beat Reliance in the Southwest District title game. The only non-surprise among the final four teams was Casper (Natrona), which had consistently been one of the state’s best all season long.

The semifinals paired Reliance with Lusk and Lovell with Casper. But with mighty Cheyenne already vanquished, what were the Tigers? Once again, Reliance played above its size, Nelson scored 14 and the Pirates wiped out Lusk by 11, 39-28.

Just like that, little Reliance was in the state championship.

Casper’s 45-35 victory against Lovell set up one of the most unlikely of title pairings: the 22-4, big-school, big-town, we-belong-here Mustangs against the 19-10, small-school, small-town, we-belong-here-too Pirates.

Nelson said excitement for the Pirates had reached a frenzy back in the four coal camps of Reliance, Winton, Dines and Stansbury. Those who couldn’t make it to UW’s Half Acre Gym by car, train or bus for the championship still managed to keep up with the proceedings. Even the underground miners in Reliance’s coal mines kept in the know. Miners running hoists above ground would listen to the game on the radio and periodically write down the score of the game.

“They’d put (the scores) on the coal cars and run them down the mine, and (the miners) could keep up with the scores that way,” Nelson said.

The Pirates’ magic ran out in the championship, though, as a bigger and more physical Mustang team built a six-point halftime lead and won by 13, 49-36.

“They played a completely different ballgame than any other team we played,” Fortuna said. “They forced us to move the ball. … They just turned the tables on us.”

Regardless, Varras was named to the all-state team, the first time a Reliance player had been so honored. And the Pirates picked up all kinds of recognition for being the team to not only end Cheyenne’s title run but to reach the title game. The team came home with a big, golden basketball trophy for its runner-up finish, which was displayed proudly in the school trophy case, and Smith was named the state’s coach of the year.

Jim Rafferty, a junior on the runner-up team, said the reason for the Pirates’ success was a simple combination of the care and comfort the players had for and with each other: “We played together.”

However, the on-court magic ended there.

The 1950 team had the opposite experience of being the hunted, not the hunter; the Pirates finished 21-2 in the regular season and won the Southwest Conference regular-season title. Then it all crumbled down at the district tournament, where Reliance had the misfortune of losing their final two games of the season in the final two games. They didn’t even have the chance to repeat their run at state, failing to qualify and spending that weekend at home.

The 1952 and 1953 teams, now playing in Class A and avoiding run-ins with the likes of Cheyenne and Casper, each advanced to the state tournament semifinals but no further.

That’s the closest Reliance ever got to another title run. With a declining enrollment, the Pirates moved to Class B in 1955 and, not long after the Union Pacific coal mines near Reliance closed in early 1959, the high school closed later that year. Reliance went 4-16 in its final season of basketball.

Reliance, population 714, survives today, with the school remade into apartments. The nearby mining towns of Winton, Dines and Stansbury, whose youth also filled the halls of Reliance High and whose citizens emptied the town to come to a high school basketball tournament in Laramie in 1949, did not survive, as a handful of foundations is all that remains.

And Varras is curious what happened to the big, golden trophy.

“I don’t know where that went,” he said. “That would be nice to know.”

THE TEAM

The true nature of the Pirates’ championship-game run wasn’t apparent for decades later, after it became clear just how special the group of young men on that team in Reliance truly was. To a man, each of them went on to lead successful, enriching lives. Many of them gave back to the sport by becoming coaches, educators or administrators. Others found success in other lines of work, such as engineering, medicine or military service. Many served as part of the U.S. military the Korean War. And they led the way for younger players who didn’t see the floor but saw the leadership in action and followed the path blazed in part by a dramatic championship-game appearance.

The team, and the fortunes that followed them, included:

SENIORS

  • John Fortuna: Worked in the oil and gas industry for nearly a decade, then worked with the U.S. Postal Service in Rock Springs for 30 years. Lives in Rock Springs; age 91.
  • Everett Hernandez: Became an engineer and had a 40-year career with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego; was also a youth baseball coach and taught math at San Diego State and San Diego Mesa College. Died 2017.
  • Claude Thomas: Went to college at BYU and to medical school at Utah; was a practicing doctor in Utah for more than three decades, retiring in 1993. Died 2014.
  • Spiro Varras: A WCA hall of famer, led Rock Springs’ basketball team to four state championships in 14 years as head coach and was a math teacher at the school. Lives in Rock Springs; age 91.

JUNIORS

  • Michael Fresques: According to Varras, Fresques was a Korean War hero, working as a medic and rescuing people from battlefields after injuries; he graduated with an engineering degree from UW in 1956; buried in Fort Logan National Cemetery in Colorado. Died 2006.
  • George Jelaco: Was a teacher, coach and administrator in Rock Springs for close to three decades; he is a member of the Wyoming Sports Officials Association’s hall of fame. Died 2000.
  • Stan Kouris: A basketball coach for six years at Rock Springs and at one time was the elected head of the Wyoming Coaches Association, a position Varras took over immediately after Kouris became an administrator at Rock Springs High; he later worked as a grocery manager and owner in Utah. Died 2021.
  • Ernest “Ernie” Mecca: A 30-year member of the National Guard and civic leader in Sweetwater County, with accomplishments and memberships too numerous to mention, and was employed by Rocky Mountain Power; later became chief of staff to Wyoming Gov. Mike Sullivan. Died 2011.
  • George “Bud” Nelson: A WCA hall of famer, he was a coach and administrator at Rock Springs and Cokeville as well as at Western Wyoming College, where he was the basketball coach; he was named the national athletic director of the year in 1989 while at Rock Springs. Lives in Rock Springs; age 91.
  • Jim Rafferty: Worked in extraction industries, both coal and oil, until his official full retirement in 1988. Lives in Reliance; age 90.
  • William “Bill” Strannigan: A WCA hall of famer, coached St. Stephens to a then-record 46-game winning streak and two state titles; was later activities director at Riverton for many years. Died 2012.
  • Tony Tsakakis: Worked in the office of the lieutenant governor in Minnesota. Died 2020.

SOPHOMORES

  • Robert Burns: Graduated from UW in mechanical engineering; Nelson, his brother-in-law, said Burns spent his career working on space research and technology with Lockheed Martin. Died 2015.
  • Walter Sawick: Graduated with an engineering degree from the University of Colorado; he served in the Navy and worked at Mare Island Naval shipyard and Concord Naval Weapons Station. Died 2010.
  • Ronald Wilson: According to Nelson and Fortuna, Wilson went to pharmacy school at UW and later worked as a pharmacist in Texas. Lives in Amarillo, Texas.

And some freshmen who weren’t in the team picture went on to have an impact as educators and coaches in Wyoming:

  • John Maffoni: An educator in Rawlins for 40 years, working up from teacher and coach — he was head football coach for six years — to administrator; he was the Rawlins High principal for nine years and the district superintendent for eight years. Lives in Rawlins.
  • Jim Mecca: An educator throughout the Bighorn Basin, including time in Thermopolis, Burlington and Shoshoni both teaching and coaching; he later owned the Tepee Pools in Thermopolis and was involved with fundraising for Shriner’s Hospitals for Children. Died 2019.
  • Jack Rafferty: A WCA hall of famer, was a coach and athletic director in Buffalo for many years, retiring in 1987; he was president of the Wyoming Coaches Association and led Buffalo to two state basketball championships. Died 2020.

Finally, senior manager Henry Telck also got into coaching; his specialty was youth baseball, where he eventually served as president of Rock Springs Little League. He, too, was a Korean War veteran, and he worked for 32 years for Mountain Fuel Supply. He died in 1997.

Meanwhile, the coaches of the team made their impacts beyond Reliance, too. Head coach Jack Smith — a graduate of Kemmerer and a former member of the UW basketball team — stayed on as the Pirates’ head coach through 1955. He later entered administration and became superintendent of Rock Springs schools, holding that position for 23 years. He died in 1999 at age 80.

His influence stoked the passion many of the Reliance players had for both sports and education.

“He was in World War II as a bomber pilot, and he just inspired all of us,” Varras said. “He was just that kind of person. I think that was one of the main reasons we all went into coaching. … We really felt that he was a good person and we tried to be the same way.”

Added Nelson, “He was a fundamental coach. He was a great coach that way, X’s and O’s, and he had a way with young people. … He was quite a man, and we all admired him.”

Assistant coach Thomas Manatos taught in Reliance and later in Rock Springs for 42 years. He also was the sports voice of the Tigers on the radio, broadcasting Rock Springs football and basketball games for almost 20 years. He died in 2004 at age 84.

Varras said Manatos was his inspiration to become a math teacher.

In Reliance’s case, success bred success. The success of the players after high school was no doubt related to the successes they already were, and the successes their families and community helped mold them into, with or without a couple victories in March.

Fortuna said the legacy of the team’s success was evident each of his 30 years delivering mail in Rock Springs, which was full of former residents of the closed coal camps.

“When I carried mail, the majority people knew me from playing ball in Reliance,” he said. ” … They knew all the players. It was like family.

” … It was just something that stuck with them all the time, that a little burg like we were could beat someone like Cheyenne.”

–patrick

Box score photos courtesy of Bud Nelson.

On Saturday, the Rawlins boys basketball team won the state basketball championship. Just a few months ago, the Outlaws finished a winless football season.

Turns out that such a jump is more common than I thought. With Rawlins this year, now 12 groups have pulled that off, and one school has done it twice…

Other teams to jump from a winless football season to a championship basketball season in the same school year?

Wyoming Indian, 2019-20
Campbell County, 2017-18
Burlington, 2015-16 (Huskies’ transition from 11-man to six-man, so there’s a pretty big asterisk here)
Lander, 2007-08
Wyoming Indian, 1990-91
Meeteetse, 1986-87
Kelly Walsh, 1974-75
Burns, 1971-72
Goshen Hole, 1966-67
Albin, 1953-54
Laramie, 1922-23

–patrick

A short Twitter thread from @wyominghoops regarding the upcoming 3A/4A state basketball tournaments…

–patrick

Some thoughts on the 1A-2A basketball regionals/state weeks I posted to @wyominghoops on Twitter a few days ago:

–patrick

Last season, the Kelly Walsh boys basketball team finished 3-15.

So far this season, the Trojans are 11-1.

The turnaround that KW has seen so far is laudable, and if the Trojans keep it up, it could end up being one of the best single-season turnarounds the state has ever seen.

In April 2013, I brought to your attention some of the biggest single-season turnarounds and falloffs in Wyoming football history.

This post is designed to do the same, but this time for basketball: the 10 biggest turnarounds and the 10 biggest falloffs in both boys and girls basketball history.

Certainly, a lot goes into a dramatic increase or a dramatic falloff. Big improvements come from a variety of reasons, including classification changes and infusions of talent. For example, the single biggest turnaround in Wyoming’s basketball history (by far, just look at the numbers) came from the Big Horn girls team in 1998, which had a freshman unit that eventually won a pair of state championships and had an unbeaten season in their senior year. That’s something you just can’t coach.

The top four falloffs for boys, though, all involved a coaching change — more a signal of a coach abandoning a bad situation than anything else. (My dad, Jim, was involved in the No. 2 falloff of all time as the new head coach at Mountain View in 1978 after the Buffalos had won three consecutive Class B championships. That same season, though, he coached the MV girls to third at state.) However, the top four falloffs for girls all involved the same head coach for both seasons. So go figure.

Some changes, though, are a reflection of bigger happenings in a community. For example, the Superior boys in 1962 had little control of their fall from 24-4 to 2-14. The area’s mines closed at a precipitous rate that year, with the final closure of the D.O. Clark Mine in March putting more than 70 miners out of work and bringing about the closure of the high school. As for more of Patrick’s family connections, my uncle Lee moved to Wheatland in 1972 as a junior in high school and was part of the Wheatland 1972-73 turnaround that made the top 10, but that move just happened to coincide with the beginning of the construction of the Laramie River Station power plant near Wheatland that brought a big influx of new people to Platte County.

Here are the lists of the biggest single-season turnarounds, in both directions:

The top 10 biggest improvements, boys:
Lingle, 1990, .759 improvement (from 3-17 to 20-2)
Cokeville, 1941, .717 improvement (from 2-13 to 17-3)
Rock River, 1955, .711 improvement (from 1-13 to 18-5)
Meeteetse, 1976, .700 improvement (from 1-19 to 15-5)
Hanna, 1955, .657 improvement (from 3-16 to 22-5)
Torrington, 1985, .645 improvement (from 2-17 to 18-6)
Sunrise, 1939, .613 improvement (from 3-14 to 15-4)
Rozet, 1941, .607 improvement (from 6-16 to 22-3)
Wheatland, 1973, .601 improvement (from 4-17 to 19-5)
Riverton, 2017, .595 improvement (from 10-17 to 28-1)

Top 10 biggest falloffs, boys:
Burns, 2004, .870 falloff (from 20-3 to 0-19)
Mountain View, 1978, .850 falloff (from 24-0 to 3-17)
Pinedale, 2011, .778 falloff (from 21-6 to 0-23)
Arvada-Clearmont, 1991, .763 falloff (from 21-2 to 3-17)
Medicine Bow, 1980, .750 falloff (from 15-5 to 0-17)
NSI, 2003, .737 falloff (from 14-5 to 0-18)
Saratoga, 1984, .735 falloff (from 21-4 to 2-17)
Superior, 1962, .732 falloff (from 24-4 to 2-14)
Guernsey-Sunrise, 1998, .725 falloff (from 17-5 to 1-20)
Kemmerer, 2005, .715 falloff (from 23-4 to 3-19)

The top 10 biggest improvements, girls:
Big Horn, 1998, .783 improvement (from 1-19 to 20-4)
Laramie, 2006, .631 improvement (from 1-20 to 19-9)
Newcastle, 1978, .628 improvement (from 2-9 to 17-4)
Natrona, 2020, .619 improvement (from 1-20 to 16-8)
Dubois, 1989, .587 improvement (from 4-14 to 17-4)
Green River, 1982, .572 improvement (from 3-17 to 13-5)
Meeteetse, 1996, .549 improvement (from 2-15 to 12-6)
Mountain View, 2014, .546 improvement (from 2-22 to 17-10)
Riverton, 1983, .542 improvement (from 10-14 to 23-1)
Tongue River, 2003, .527 improvement (from 4-15 to 17-6)

Top 10 biggest falloffs, girls:
Lyman, 1996, .800 falloff (from 23-0 to 4-16)
St. Stephens, 2020, .794 falloff (from 23-3 to 2-20)
Rocky Mountain, 1994, .775 falloff (from 20-4 to 1-16)
Midwest, 1983, .747 falloff (from 17-4 to 2-17)
Dubois, 1981, .746 falloff (from 18-3 to 2-16)
Mountain View, 1999, .727 falloff (from 25-0 to 6-16)
Sundance, 1986, .720 falloff (from 17-5 to 1-18)
Wright, 2020, .715 falloff (from 19-6 to 1-21)
Big Horn, 1991, .714 falloff (from 15-6 to 0-19)
Guernsey-Sunrise, 2006, .713 falloff (from 26-1 to 6-18)

**Note that these are incomplete records, since I’m missing 354 boys season records since 1960 and 286 girls records since 1976. I’m sad about that. You can help.

–patrick

For the five team sports offered by the WHSAA — basketball, football, soccer, softball and volleyball — four-time all-state selections are quite uncommon.

In fact, among those five team sports, only 14 boys and 48 girls have been four-time all-state choices.

As noted previously here, only 21 players — five boys, 16 girls — are four-time all-state basketball selections.

Oddly enough, a similar ratio exists for fall and spring team sports. For fall, three boys are four-time all-state football selections, while 13 girls are four-time all-state volleyball picks. And in spring, two boys and 19 girls have been four-time all-state soccer choices.

Softball was first sanctioned in 2021, so no four-time all-staters will come from that sport until at least 2024.

Lyman’s Tayler Anderson and Kelly Walsh’s Madison Vinich are the only players to be four-time all-state in two different team sports; both were four-time picks in volleyball and basketball.

The fall four-time all-state selections are:

Volleyball
Wendy Anderson, Cokeville, 1987-90
Stephanie Laya, Tongue River, 1993-96
Katie Nate, Cokeville, 1996-99
Meggie Malyurek, Big Horn, 1997-2000
Erin Scherry, Big Horn, 1997-2000
Tayler Anderson, Lyman, 2005-08
Paige Neves, Burlington, 2006-09
Madison Vinich, Kelly Walsh, 2014-17
Haedyn Rhoades, Douglas, 2015-18
Danilynn Schell, Kelly Walsh, 2016-19
McKenzie Earl, Rawlins, 2017-20
Demi Stauffenberg, Lander, 2018-21
Alexis Stucky, Laramie, 2018-21

Football
Ty Barrus, Meeteetse, 1987-90
James Caro, Kaycee, 2009-12
Drake Lamp, Lusk, 2017-20

For soccer, the four-time all-state choices are:

Girls
Marcee Owens, Natrona, 1988-91
Liza Schmidt, Cheyenne Central, 1991-94
Erin Bowler, Cheyenne East, 1995-98
Jenny Watkins, Lander, 1995-98
Lindsey Sosovec, Cheyenne East, 1995-98
Monica Trujillo, Cheyenne East, 1995-98
Jessie Zebroski, Lander, 1997-00
Melissa Speiser, Natrona, 1997-00
Enedina Vasco, Riverton, 1998-01
Ariela Schreibeis, Laramie, 2007-10
Bridget Schumacher, Cody, 2009-12
Jessica Freeze, Jackson, 2010-13
Sarah Erickson, Cheyenne East, 2011-14
Hannah Bailey, Cody, 2014-17
Taylor Stoeger, Green River, 2014-17
Casey Wassum, Worland, 2015-18
Lexi Pulley, Laramie, 2015-18
Eli Olsen, Buffalo, 2016-19
Grace Roswadovski, Campbell County/Thunder Basin, 2016-19

Boys
Jared White, Cheyenne East, 1992-95
Robert George, Kelly Walsh, 2013-16

+++

Individual sports are harder to track because what constitutes “all-state” varies from sport to sport. However, across a variety of individual sports, we can keep track of four-time state champions, something that’s maybe even harder to do than all-state in a team sport.

Cross country: Three girls have won state cross country four times, one each at the 4A, 3A and 2A levels:

Sarah Balfour, Natrona, 4A, 2001-04
Emily Higgins, Rocky Mountain, 2A, 2002-05
Sydney Thorvaldson, Rawlins, 3A, 2017-20

No boys have ever won state cross country titles four times, although Saratoga’s Grant Bartlett has a chance to do so at the 2A level next season.

—-

Golf: Two boys and two girls have finished as four-time state champions:

Boys
Easton Paxton, Riverton, 4A, 2013-16
Hardy Johnson, Thermopolis, 2A, 2018-21

Girls
Mardi Johnson, Buffalo, 3A, 1991-94
Whittney Coon, Lusk, 2A, 2003-06

—-

Gymnastics: Although no longer sanctioned by the WHSAA, two boys (across four events) and four girls (across six events) have been four-time event or all-around champions.

Boys
Chris Santistevan, Laramie, vault, 1984-87
Steven George, Laramie, pommel horse, rings and all-around, 1989-92

Girls
Jennifer Perry, Laramie, uneven parallel bars, 1979-82
Amanda Murdock, Kelly Walsh, floor exercise, vault and all-around 1985-88
Julie Kasper, Campbell County, all-around, 1996-99
Kaitlyn Balfour, Natrona, uneven parallel bars, 2005-08

—-

Nordic skiing: Jackson’s Willie Neal is an eight-time champion, winning both races at state every year from 2005-08. Jackson’s Anna Gibson won the freestyle race four years in a row from 2014-17 and won six individual titles in all after winning the classic races in 2016 and 2017, the most individual championships for any one skier on the girls’ side.

—-

Swimming: Three boys and five girls have the distinction of being eight-time individual champions, never losing an individual race at state (as swimmers are capped at two individual races at state). They are:

Boys
John Green, Sheridan, 1984-87
Phil Rehard, Rawlins, 1993-96
Jake Rehard, Rawlins, 1995-98

Girls
Cindy Miyake, Laramie, 1974-77
Yvonne Brown, Campbell County, 1980-83
Shelly Smith, Greybull, 1981-84
Marsha Landowski, Newcastle, 1987-90
Katie Peck, Buffalo, 1996-99

(Note that individual swimming records at the state meet are woefully incomplete prior to the 1970s.)

Track and field: Eight boys and 58 girls have won a single event four consecutive times. See that list here. However, no track athlete has ever won 16 individual championships (winning your maximum of four individual events every year for four years). The closest to that mark is Mountain View’s Amber Henry, who won 15 individual titles from 2005-08, and Campbell County’s Emily Moore, who won 14 from 2003-06. (Those don’t include relay titles.)

The boys with the most individual championships are Byron’s Tom Bassett and Medicine Bow’s Leonard Padilla. Basset and Padilla both won 12 individual championships, Bassett from 1974-77 and Padilla from 1969-72. However, both competed in eras prior to the cap of four individual events per person at the state meet.

—-

Wrestling: In all, 24 wrestlers have finished their careers with four state championships. They are:

Dave Edington, Saratoga, 1957-60
Ray Sanchez, Cheyenne Central, 1962-65
John Lucchi, Rock Springs, 1970-73
Lanny Schneider, Worland, 1984-87
Russell Davis, Upton, 1988-91
Bobby Thoman, Wind River, 1995-98
Troy McIlravy, Campbell County, 1995-98
Cody Grant, Torrington, 2001-04
Jeff Wood, Campbell County, 2004-07
Jared Hatley, Torrington, 2005-08
Kasey Garnhart, Greybull-Riverside, 2005-08
Tyler Cox, Campbell County, 2006-09
Auston Carter, Powell, 2007-10
Dani Fischer, Campbell County, 2010-13
Bryce Meredith, Cheyenne Central, 2011-14
Justin Lewton, Worland, 2011-14
James Teichert, Cokeville, 2012-15
Tevis Bartlett, Cheyenne East, 2012-15
Kye Catlin, Powell, 2013-16
Donny Proffit, Kemmerer, 2016-19
Tate Stoddard, Glenrock, 2016-19
Dawson Schramm, Kemmerer, 2017-20
Jace Palmer, Kelly Walsh, 2017-20
Analu Benabise, Kelly Walsh, 2018-21

—-

Indoor track and alpine skiing have never had a four-time champion in any one event, although alpine skiing records are incomplete.

–patrick

If you follow sister site wyoming-basketball.com on Twitter (or if you follow wyoming-football.com on Facebook, where an occasional wyoming-basketball.com update will show up), you will by no doubt have seen that I enlisted the help of former Wyoming high school coach John Tate to come up with the top 25 boys and top 25 girls basketball players from the state since 1976.

Not everyone agreed with John’s choices, which is fine — we’re all entitled to our opinion, and I love the discussion that these kinds of lists can generate.

What we’re not allowed to do, though, is fudge our facts. And what’s become increasingly clear from the comments left on Facebook, on Twitter and on the site is that we grossly overestimate the number of four-time all-state basketball selections who have played in Wyoming.

Thanks to a collection of research posted on wyoming-basketball.com, we now have full all-state teams back to 1932 available on demand for every season.

And we have a list of two-time, three-time and four-time all-state selections. Type in “4x” into the search bar here, and you’ll see the list of four-time all-state selections is small, just 21 players — 16 girls, five boys — all-time.

The five boys? Wyoming Indian’s Myron Chavez (1983-86); Snake River’s Dale Reed (1986-89); Ten Sleep’s Logan Burningham (2010-13); Buffalo’s Trey Schroefel (2013-16); and Pine Bluffs’ Hunter Thompson (2014-17). That’s it.

The girls’ list is longer and includes:

  • Amy Carver, Mountain View, 1977-80
  • Deb Sylte, Newcastle, 1978-81
  • Debbie Jacobson, Evanston, 1985-88
  • Jamie Crawford, Greybull, 1986-89
  • Sara Horton, Greybull, 1990-93
  • Molly Marso, Campbell County, 1995-98
  • Sunny Guild, Mountain View, 1995-98
  • Mary Brown, Thermopolis, 2001-04
  • Alysia Kraft, Encampment, 2002-05
  • Tahnee Robinson, Lander, 2003-06
  • Tayler Anderson, Lyman, 2006-09
  • Robbi Ryan, Sheridan, 2013-16
  • Madison Vinich, Kelly Walsh, 2015-18
  • McKinley Bradshaw, Lyman, 2016-19
  • Ky Buell, Rock Springs/Cheyenne East, 2017-20
  • Allyson Fertig, Douglas, 2018-21

So if you want to claim that someone who wasn’t listed among John’s top 25s deserved a spot there, or deserved a higher spot, totally cool! Let’s talk about it; you might just be right. Be sure to leave a comment on those posts (girls and boys) on wyoming-basketball.com.

But if you want to claim that someone was a four-time all-state selection and they weren’t, well… now you’re a liar. Because you now have the tools to know better.

–patrick

Updated 9:49 a.m. Dec. 31 to include Chavez, who was unintentionally left off the first list.

Post Navigation