POCATELLO — Before the wrestling season kicked off back in the fall of 2018, Jerome High School senior Ezekial Williamson told his teammates that he had one goal in mind for them in the campaign ahead.

The three-time 4A state champion was less concerned with claiming his fourth individual title. He wanted the tigers to come together and deliver a team championship.

After the first day of the state tournament on Friday, the Tigers sit in fourth in the team scores. With eight grapplers set to hit the mats in Saturday’s semifinal bouts, the possibility of challenging for a state title is real for Jerome.

“These kids started at a young age, wanting to become a state champ,” Jerome head coach Josh Wright said. “I’ve been telling them the last couple days that they’re four matches away from accomplishing that goal. Some of them are two matches away now.”

The Tigers’ eight semifinalists are spread across seven weight classes. Juniors Jose Treyes and Adrian Mendez will go for it at 113 pounds, while sophomore Gabriel Taboa will face a conference foe in Minico senior Zak Allred in the 120-pound semis.

The trio of Jakob Murillo, Williamson and Peyton Ringling, all seniors, will go back-to-back-to-back at 145, 152 and 160 pounds, respectively. Sophomore Remington Winmill will compete in the semifinals at 182 pounds and senior Fernando Luna will battle at 220.

“I’m really hopeful,” Luna said. “Coming back from winning the district championship for the first time in, I believe nine years, the team we have right now is pretty good. It gives me hope to go out there and do my best for the team.”

That district championship win came over the many teams that make up the Great Basin Conference, including Minico, which has won the last two 4A state titles.

The Spartans currently sit in eighth, and may not be able to recreate the successes of the past two years. Instead, Jerome is looking at Kuna and Columbia, two schools that moved down from the 5A classification, along with Blackfoot, as the three squads it still has to catch.

Wright said that, even if the Tigers aren’t able to make up the ground in between after Friday, it’ll serve as a good lesson for the athletes, educating them both in the trials of sport and life.

Williamson said Wright is still pushing the Tigers to get out there and top the wrestling powerhouses in their way, along with the rest of the field.

“Our coach preaches in the room that, if this is what we want to do, we need to show it in the room,” Williamson said. “We’ve had to work a lot harder. The examples the seniors set for the younger guys is what’s gonna do it.”

Along with the aspirations of the team come the individual hopes of several Tigers who remain in the running for championships.

Williamson’s quest to become just the fourth four-time state champion in the history of the 4A classification will face its final test on Saturday, as he’ll look to get through the semifinals and finish his career with four championships under his belt.

A fourth title for Williamson would not only mean a lot to him, his teammates and his coaches, but to Jerome and wrestling in the community as a whole, Luna said.

“Honestly, I never even thought that it was gonna be a thing,” Williamson said of his decorated career. “Slowly, but surely, it’s just one more, one match at a time. It’s worked out.”

Luna, meanwhile, beat Pocatello’s Brian Jackson twice during the season, but lost a tight match to him in the district tournament.

It’s a loss that has shaped Luna’s mindset ahead of his semifinal bout, with the looming possibility of a rematch with Jackson in the 220-pound title match, should both win their first match on Saturday.

“I got a little too comfortable with how I was wrestling Jackson,” Luna said. “He came out there and put the pressure on me and ended up winning. I took that, and I’m gonna wrestle smarter, and more aggressive to bring it back to him.”

Those two, along with their teammates, including Winmill, who made the 170-pound title match last year, as well as Ringling and Taboa, who were semifinalists, all have points to prove. Those points can be proven at an individual level, while serving to push the Tigers toward a team triumph.

Williamson said the potential for a Tigers title push would be a stepping stone for the program, as it would indicate the progress it has made and the success it could have moving forward.

“It’d mean a lot to a lot of people,” Wright said. “To put it into words is probably a little more difficult than I can say, but it’d mean a lot to those people, and not just the ones that are here right now. Bringing a state title home generally revolves around a lot of work, a lot of discipline, and a lot of time.”

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