The end of an era: Panther wrestling’s ‘Big 3’ finish transcendent careers

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The numbers are undeniable.

Nine individual state titles, three team championships, 12 state finals appearances, 12 All-State nods, 456 career wins, three school records and a personal career achievement preceded by just 18 wrestlers in Wyoming history.

Jaw-dropping stats and shelves stacked with trophies are the products of the unquestioned work ethic and focus of Kye Catlin, Chance Karst and Nic Urbach.

In the past four seasons, the “Big 3” — as they’re dubbed by longtime PHS coach Nate Urbach — accomplished more than entire teams over that same timespan, and created a name for themselves, and the Powell Panthers, in the process.

“You can go in probably a four-state radius and a lot of people would know our names and that’s a cool thing to be a part of,” Nic Urbach said.

The Panthers won team titles in 2013, 2014 and 2015, and were runners-up at the 2016 Wyoming State Wrestling Championships. Star Valley’s first title since 2007 spoiled Powell’s shot at a five-peat, but plenty was still won on the floor of the Casper Events Center.

“I’m extremely proud of how our team did the last three years, obviously this year didn’t quite work out the way we wanted it to, but it was still a good season nonetheless,” Nic Urbach said.

Catlin finished his career sweep of individual titles with his third straight win at 145 pounds. He is only the 19th wrestler in Wyoming high school history to win a title in each of his four seasons.

“This last one was really satisfying, because I completed my goal,” Catlin said. “My sophomore year one was pretty good though too, I felt like that was the toughest one to win.”

The idea of the four-peat didn’t cross Catlin’s mind, though, until he

unexpectedly won the 138-pound title as a freshman underdog.

“I didn’t really set my goal as a four-time (champion) until I won state my freshman year,” Catlin said. “Then after that I really worked at it because I set myself up for a good opportunity.”

Karst (138 pounds) and Nic Urbach (152) also wrapped up their senior seasons as champions, completing a pair of careers that have seemingly been in lockstep since Day 1.

Each won 174 matches — a school record for career wins. Karst went 174-19 and Nic Urbach finished at 174-30.

“It’s cool to be tied with him because we put in a lot of work together,” Karst said. “Ever since we started wrestling it’s been him and I who have been going to wrestling camps and coming into the high school practices when we were just starting middle school. It’s pretty nice to be able to share that with him.”

Karst won more in fewer attempts while Nic Urbach won in more decisive fashion. The two-time champ set the school record for most wins by way of fall or technical decision with 145.

“It was never really my goal to get a million pins or techs in a season, but I’ll take it if it comes,” Nic Urbach said. “I’m good at scoring points on top. In my last two seasons I knew I could do that so I just continued on with it.”

While the good times seemed never-ending, and each wrestler earned a storybook ending, all three faced their share of disappointments as a Panther.

Nic Urbach lost a winnable title match his junior season. Karst twice sought to go undefeated, and twice missed it by a single loss. Catlin’s chase of a four-peat was interrupted by injuries during both of his upperclassmen seasons.

But the “Big 3” never let the bad get worse. Whether it be lapses of focus, unexpected losses or injuries, the Panthers managed to turn their adversity into positives.

Nic’s loss was turned into motivation for his senior season. Nic was going to peak in his final season, something his father and coach, Nate, wasn’t able to do, but wanted for his son. 

“I didn’t have my best match in the finals of last year, and I lost that match when I shouldn’t have,” Nic Urbach said. “So I really made it a big goal that I wasn’t going to lose in the finals again this year.”

Karst’s letdown came at the Ron Thon Memorial Tournament in Riverton this season. His loss to Campbell County’s Trevor Jeffries in the title bout ended his run at perfection and recalibrated his mind for the remainder of the season.

“I just did what I needed to do after that. From that point on it really didn’t matter if I lost. I just needed to try harder,” Karst said. “Knowing that there was somebody who was better than me really pushed me, because I just want to be the best.”

Catlin wasn’t pushed by an opposing wrestler, but by his desire to return to the mat before it was too late.

His senior year was supposed to make up for a junior campaign disrupted by shoulder injuries. The season still resulted in a title, but kept him off the mat and put his body through the wringer.

“I had four surgeries (and) missed probably close to 70 matches over the course of the last two seasons,” Catlin said.

A meniscus injury sustained just after Christmas followed by another shoulder injury in February reintroduced the doubt that crept into Catlin’s mind beginning last season.

“It was tough. I thought, ‘It already happened once, I don’t know why it had to happen again.’ It was tough to stay positive,” Catlin said.

He admitted he wasn’t certain he’d be able to return in time, or at a high enough level, to compete for a fourth state title. But Catlin worked his rehab and never let his mind waver from the ultimate goal.

“You have to do rehab. If you don’t do it you’re not going to be able to come back as good as you want to be,” Catlin said. “You have to stay mentally strong and be positive and keep working toward what your goal is.”

The “Big 3’s” history predates its members’ high school years.

Karst and Nic Urbach wrestled together since childhood, and the duo turned trio when Catlin joined in seventh grade.

“We’ve been practice partners and pretty good friends ever since,” Nic Urbach said.

Their time together — on or off the mat — is winding down.

Catlin and Nic Urbach are considering wrestling for Northwest College, while Karst is committed to Chadron State, a Division II program to which he signed before the start of his senior season.

Karst said his collegiate weight class and whether or not he’ll red shirt is still undecided.

His move to Chadron, Nebraska, will mark the physical split of the “Big 3,” a reality that’s not easily accepted by the wrestlers.

“Not having Nic or Kye as a partner to wrestle with …” Karst began,” “I’m sure we’ll keep up on each other though.”

Catlin and Urbach responded immediately: “Yeah, definitely.”

The “Big 3” lives on.

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