CHEYENNE – Shawn Smith has been one point shy of making the finals of the Class 4A state wrestling tournament each of the past two seasons.
“I still have some bad dreams about those matches,” the Cheyenne East senior joked.
As a sophomore, Smith dropped a 2-1 decision to eventual state champion Cameron Metcalf of Rock Springs in the 120-pound semifinals. Last winter, Smith lost a 5-4 decision to eventual state champion Ashton Dupape of Rock Springs in the 126-pound semis.
The latter loss was especially tough to stomach because Smith led Dupape late before the Rock Springs wrestler pulled ahead with a reversal.
Smith rebounded from both losses by winning a pair of consolation bouts and finishing in third place.
“When you get to the semifinals of the state tournament, that’s a pretty high level of wrestling compared to most high school events,” Smith said. “In all of the weight classes in high school, there are three or four guys who have the skills of a state champion,” Smith said. “It’s about how clutch you are, how hard you fight and how well you wrestle in those moments that determines the winner.
“It’s not necessarily about him being better than me, or me being better than him. It’s about who wrestles the best on that day.”
Smith has come to terms with the defeats, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t motivated him.
“I have tried to think that whatever happened is in the past, but I know I have to train harder and make sure that doesn’t happen next time. I’ve tried to train harder than those guys in Rock Springs are.”
Smith spent most of the summer living with his paternal grandparents in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He frequently ran
and hit up the weight room, and he also trained with wrestlers from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
“I learned a lot about stringing moves together and chain wrestling,” Smith said. “I also learned how to warm up, which is a big thing that affected me last season.
“I was pretty strong in the second and third periods, but I was kind of warming up and feeling things out in the first. If I can come blasting out of the gates in the first, that will be a big deal for me.”
Smith has wrestled tentatively at times in the past. He seems to have broken that habit, Thunderbirds coach Thad Trujillo said.
“It’s hard to tell for sure because we haven’t put a leg band on and wrestled for real yet,” Trujillo said, “but he has been pretty aggressive in practice. He has worked at creating more angles on his feet so he can get better setups. He has been pretty tenacious and really gone at guys.”
Smith knows he will most likely rack up several points if he continues to be that aggressive. Continuing to score should keep him from suffering the one-point defeats that have doomed him the past two seasons.
“I’m no longer scared to lose and let my team down,” he said. “You can’t have that mindset if you want to win. I want to be aggressive, score as many points as I can and see how much cool stuff I can do.”
If his past is any indication, Smith should be just fine.
He went 25-26 as a freshman, going 1-2 in the 113-pound bracket at state. That season was an eye-opener Smith has used to motivate him ever since.
“In middle school, I didn’t have a lot of adversity. I won pretty regularly,” Smith said. “Jumping into varsity my freshman season was like getting hit by a brick wall.
“I had to not only wrestle to win, but I had to open up and score a lot of points and have more guts than the other guy. I thought I could compete with anyone in the state, but I had to work that much harder to get to that next level.”
Smith has gone 75-34 the past two seasons.
Jeremiah Johnke is the WyoSports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-633-3137. Follow him on Twitter at @jjohnke.