LFL/SE crowns four state champs

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CASPER – An epic season for the Lingle-Fort Laramie/Southeast (LFLSE) wrestling team culminated in four championships at the 2024 state tournament in Casper last weekend.

Senior Josie Houk snagged gold in the girls’ 155-pound bracket. Senior Kaleb Brothwell (144 pounds) and juniors Nathan Fish (120 pounds) and Louden Bremer (150 pounds) captured state titles in the 2A boys’ tournament.

Josie Houk

Houk described winning her second state title on her birthday in one word, “amazing.”

The senior entered the tournament with an undefeated season record and refused to let illness and a tough competitor slow her down as she squared off against Cheyenne East’s Kaelyn Ronnau in the title match Saturday.

“(Ronnau) is a really good wrestler – she’s almost beat me a few times,” Houk said. “I was feeling sick this weekend, so I was a little scared going into the match. But I knew I just had to weather the storm, keep my moves going.”

Before stepping onto the championship mat, Houk psyched herself up with music.

“I told myself, ‘This is your match – go out there and do well,’” Houk said. “I just imagine myself winning.”

Houk won the first period against Ronnau by an overwhelming 8-2 margin following a pair of takedowns and two near falls. Ronnau managed to get a reversal early in the second period. Houk responded with a reversal followed by a pin at 3 minutes, 44 seconds.

Winning the championship was the highlight of the state experience, Houk said.

“I hit (Ronnau with) a single leg, which is a move I never do,” Houk added.

Managing the grueling three-day mental and physical test that is the state involves razor-sharp focus.

“I keep looking forward to that last hand raise at the end of the tournament,” Houk said.

Houk’s state title also marked the 10-year anniversary of her wrestling career, down to the date. Following her brother into the sport, Houk primarily competed against boys until the Wyoming High School Activities Association sanctioned girls’ wrestling for the 2022-2023 season.

“Girls’ wrestling is the best thing that ever happened,” Houk said.

Houk appreciates both the competition and camaraderie in wrestling.

“Wrestling is like a family,” she said. “You love the people, even on the mat when you’re wrestling against them.”

Houk thanked “everyone who supports me – my family, friends and coaches.”

Kaleb Brothwell

The key to success at state is finding perspective, said Brothwell, a three-time state champion.

“I just remember I’m there for fun,” he added. “What’s the worst thing that could happen? Getting pinned? I’m going to live another day. You have to get comfortable with that and then think of the things that you can do. I’m fast. I’m quick. I’m strong. No one can stop me.”

The next step is “trusting” in the countless hours of blood, sweat and tears Brothwell put into preparing for state and then clearing the mind.

“I had a target on my back,” Brothwell said. “But everyone in my weight bracket had a target on their back.”

The first-place round at state pitted Brothwell against Thermopolis’ Will Ward, an opponent Brothwell defeated earlier in the season at Douglas. 

“I knew (Ward) was strong going into the match,” Brothwell remarked. “I was prepared for a dogfight. I went out there, I got my stuff and I pinned him.”

Brothwell won by fall with 34 seconds to spare in the first period. On Friday in the semifinals, Brothwell also quickly dispatched his opponent, pinning Clay Teichert, of Cokeville, in 33 seconds.

“That was pretty cool,” Brothwell said.

Brothwell was in fourth grade when he followed an older brother into wrestling. 

“I kind of wrestled on and off until my seventh-grade year and that’s when I took it seriously and started grinding and putting in the work,” Brothwell said.

The “individuality” of the sport appeals most to Brothwell.

“My results are on me,” he added. “I don’t have a team to rely on. Every day is about getting better at wrestling for me.”

Brothwell gave a shoutout to his coaches, singling out Pete Mikulski as “the man.” He also gave a “special thanks” to J.R.

Nathan Fish

Fish hails from a “wrestling family” – his grandfather, father and older brother all competed in the sport.

“I came to state tournaments when I was little,” Fish said. “I told my dad that I was going to go down there and win one of those (state titles).”

Exceeding his earliest goals, Fish snagged the championship in his weight class not once, but three times – as a freshman, sophomore and junior. Standing up on the podium “never gets old,” Fish noted.

“When you win, and you look around and see the events center packed to the ceiling, it’s a crazy feeling,” Fish said. “I love it. That is what I live for.”

Six minutes before the official raised Fish’s arm in triumph after the championship round, Fish shook hands with his rival, Cannon Boren, of Thermopolis. Over the course of the morning, Fish visualized the first period against Boren.

“I knew I needed to take him down, light him up and then take him down again,” Fish said.

Fish succeeded and pulled ahead, 4-1, as the second period commenced.

“I knew I had to get some more takedowns going, which is what I did,” Fish said. “Once I started getting takedowns, I knew little by little, I was going to break (Boren) down. In the third period, when I got that last takedown and almost took him to his back, I knew it was done, right there. I felt him go limp in those last 20 seconds.”

Fish won by an 11-3 major decision.

“It was amazing,” Fish said. “I’ve been working for this ever since I was little.”

Fish thanked his coaches and teammates, notably Brothwell, Bremer and senior Wyatt Sylvester “for pushing me.” He also gave a shoutout to his parents, “the greatest thing in my life.”

Louden Bremer

When the official held up Bremer’s hand following his victory against Big Piney’s David Farrington in the championship round, Bremer was not sure he was ready to wrap up both the tournament and the season.

“I really started enjoying the process this year,” Bremer said. “That was what made it fun.”

The path to the state championship involved a significant mental reset for Bremer as he commenced his junior year.

“I had some problems the last two years with my mindset – not thinking that I should be out there (in the first-place round),” Bremer added. “I switched my thinking this year and knew that I belonged out there.”

The championship round between Bremer and Farrington came down to the wire, with Bremer winning after three exhausting periods by a 4-3 decision.

“I capitalized on using my quickness, getting outside on sweet singles,” Bremer said. “I went out there and knew I had to score first. If I could do that, I could get good rides on top, put a couple points on the board to give myself kind of a cushion and work from there.”

In addition to excelling on the wrestling mats, Bremer stood out on the gridiron. 

“Football is super fun, and I love it for that,” Bremer said. “Wrestling is freakin’ hard, but I love it for that. Wrestling teaches you to work through tough situations and adversity. I know I wouldn’t be half the person I am today without all the life lessons it’s taught me.”

Bremer expressed gratitude to his family, coaches and teammates – especially Fish, Brothwell and Sylvester. He dedicated his win to “the glory of God.”

Bremer concluded with advice to up-and-coming wrestlers:

“Keep getting after it. Learn to enjoy the process and know that you are good enough.”