Western Has Horsepower: Mustangs Sweep National Awards

Western Wyoming Community College's (Western's) wrestling team competed this past weekend in Council Bluffs, Iowa at the National Junior College Athletic Association's (NJCAA) National Men's Wrestling Champion (Championship). Defending their 2023 Championship Title, the Mustangs brought home another Championship, outscoring the second-placed team by 21.5 points. Returning to Rock Springs late Sunday evening, they received an escort to campus along with an impromptu welcome back from students, fellow athletes, Western employees, and our community.

In addition to the back-to-back Championships, Coach Art Castillo was named the Division I Wrestling Coach of the Year, making this his third time receiving the award. The closing of this season marks Coach Castillo's fifteenth year as head coach for Western's wrestling team and seventeenth year overall.

Seven of the 10 wrestlers competing earned All-American honors, with sophomore Cody Phelps (Pinedale, Wyoming) winning an individual National Championship at 133 pounds. He was also voted the NJCAA Outstanding Wrestler of the year. Sophomore River Wardle (Heber City, Utah) received the Bruce Traphagen Award, given to the wrestler with the most falls in the least amount of time. National Champion Cody Phelps said, "It's hard to describe in words what it means to be part of this team. I accomplished my goals but I couldn't have done it without all of my teammates, coaches, fans, and supporters as well as my family. Western is an amazing place!"

The road to Iowa started for the team in the Fall of 2023. While the wrestling season officially began in October, the team was already hard at work with pre-season workouts in August.

They knew that defending their title would not be easy, but nothing worth having ever is. Coach Castillo and his assistant coaches never doubted their wrestlers because they knew the quality of all 34 young men on the team and how they pushed each other every day in practices. They showed this quality as they won the Plains District Tournament on February 17, and qualified all ten wrestlers to Nationals.

Summing up the season and the Championship, Coach Castillo said, "I am so blessed and grateful to be able to chase greatness with these outstanding humans. I can't begin to describe how proud I am of these guys! The grit, focus, and maturity they had all season to go wire to wire number one is truly amazing. This team fought through so much adversity this season with injuries and sickness, etc. Their bond and brotherhood is such a beautiful thing and was definitely the difference maker when times were tough. To the Mustang faithful and the people of Wyoming thank you for all your support. I hope these young men inspire you all, they certainly inspire me! Wyoming, this is for all of you!"

In 2022 the Mustangs finished fourth at Nationals and in 2021 the squad finished second. When asked about the history of the program, Dr. Lu Sweet, Western's Athletic Director, said, "We are proud of our wrestlers and coaching staff for this huge accomplishment. We are equally proud that we can accomplish this with our athletic motto always in mind: Good People, Good Students, Good Athletes. Kudos to the wrestlers for sustaining these results over the years. That is what defines a great program rather than saying it was simply a great year, or a great team."


Reader Comments(0)