Jun 4, 2017 - By Scott Akanewich, Sports EditorRiverton's four-time Class 4-A champions featured a roster of future college athletes.
Four years ago, a group of golf-club wielding freshmen hit the course for the Riverton Wolverines, having no idea what they would go on to accomplish during their respective and collective high school careers, much less beyond into their collegiate years.
Or did they?
Easton Paxton, Jayd Dion and Alec Richardson were wrapping up their first seasons of high school competition in the fall of 2013, while Chris Quayle was already a junior.
The Wolverines were the smallest school in the Class 4-A field in Rock Springs at the state championships, but you wouldn't have known by what transpired, as the inexperienced foursome went on to capture state gold, in what was only the beginning of an unprecedented run in Big Red sports history.
Even more remarkable was the fact all four players' scores needed to be included in the team total, as the Wolverines were a player short. Usually, a fifth golfer is in the team, with the top four scores counting.
Riverton didn't have the luxury of any room for error but showed great resolve in winning the first of what would be a historic four consecutive state crowns.
The squad's accomplishments on that day weren't lost on RHS head coach Lars Flanagan.
"I truly think this is one of the mostunder-appreciatedevents inRHSsports over the last 20 years," said Flanagan, a former Wolverine basketball coach as well. "Can you image our basketball team winning state with only four players on the court?"
Each member of the team brought distinctive ingredients to the overall recipe of success for Wolverine golf.
Paxton was certainly the alpha golfer of the pack, not only for his sublime skill level, but his leadership abilities, which were on display as early at that season-ending event, which would serve to galvanize the group for years to come, said Flanagan.
"Undoubtedly, the leader of our group," he said."When he realized we were a man down that first year, he got the players together and spoke about 'no excuses -- all our scores count.' Even with five, I wasn't sure we were the best team in the state. I was hoping for a trophy, but to him, the main objective was to win as a team."
According to Flanagan, anyone with eyes could see Paxton was ticketed for bigger and better things, but he was also out for the best interests of his teammates.
"Easton was already penciled in as a Division I golfer even as a freshman," said Flanagan, of Paxton, who will play for North Carolina State next season."What he did for the others was letting them know if they wanted to be a collegiate athlete, they could.It wasn't just kids from the bigger schools or large towns -- you can be the best even if you live in Riverton.At that point, all of those kids starting thinking of what their future could look like."
But, there was one thing Paxton didn't need to introduce them to.
"What he didn't need to do was show them the work ethic needed to be successful," said Flanagan. "Easton is a great worker, but so are all of them."
Above and beyond the fact Paxton went on to win four consecutive Class 4-A individual championships during his career as a Wolverine, his leadership not only on the course, but the court, as well, endeared him to everyone, he said.
"Easton is just a leader," said Flanagan.(Riverton basketball) Coach (Stuart) Mullins and I have both talked about his impact on our teams.Even though he was an all-state golfer four times and an all-state basketball player, his biggest impact was his leadership.Sometimes high schoolers think leading is yelling or being in your face.His style was to lead by example, but also to be supportive of his teammates. Never did he let his individual goals interfere with the team."
Out of nowhere
Richardson, a middle-schooler at the time, arrived at Riverton Country Club looking to play a round one day, only for his plans to be altered and with them, the fortunes of the Wolverines, as well as his own, said Flanagan.
"As an eighth-grader, he didn't know we were having a high school golf tournament," he said. "He came to the course to play, but when he saw the course was being used, he stayed for five hours chipping and putting.The other teams' coaches were just amazed we had this kid working on his own for this long when they couldn't get their high school kids to practice for two hours."
Richardson became a legitimate three-sport star for Big Red over the course of his four-year career and is reaping the rewards of his athleticism and versatility, have penned his signature to attend and run track for Idaho State University.
"Alec is an example of maximizing your athletic skills," said Flanagan.
Court to the course
For Quayle, golf was simply a diversion from his true passion on the hardwood, but that didn't stop him from being just as dedicated, said Flanagan.
"Chris was always a basketball player," he said. "He didn't like to hit the range, but he liked to play 18 holes.Every day after his long basketball workouts, he would then jump on the course to play 18."
In fact, Flanagan could keep tabs on Quayle's athletic habits without even leaving his living room.
"Chris lives down the street from me. I loved sitting in my house listening to the ball bouncing in his driveway as he worked on his game," he said."This would happen all hours of the day.Chris didn't play golf with us as a freshman.When he decided not to play football, I tried to recruit him to be a golfer --not just because he was a good golfer, but I knew he was athletic, a hard worker and more importantly, a competitor."
Quayle was named Wyoming's Gatorade basketball player of the year his senior season with the Wolverines and went on the play this past campaign with Central Wyoming College, before receiving a scholarship to continue his playing career at North Dakota State next season.
Master of intangibles
Dion wasn't the most athletic of the group, but brought invaluable contributions to the cause over his four years, even if it wasn't initially evident, said Flanagan.
"Jayd is an example of an athlete maximizing other traits like mental strength, composure and hard work," he said. I coached him in eight-grade basketball --he was a B team player.Of all the kids on that team, I never thought he would be the one that would sign an NCAA athletic scholarship offer."
Dion will be playing golf for Montana State University-Billings in the fall.
On the girls' side of the Wolverines swingers was Kendra Miller, who went on to play golf on a scholarship at Central Wyoming College.
More on the way
However, just because the current four-year reign of "The Big Three" of Paxton, Richardson and Dion has finally run its course doesn't mean more success, as well as additional college rides, aren't on the way, said Flanagan.
"When you include Kendra, who went on to play at CWC, plus Jorden James and Shelby Watson, who will get the opportunity to play after their high school careers, I'm not sure if there have been any other RHS teams to have that many college-bound kids," he said. "The only examples I can think of is the 1983-84 volleyball team who had three Division I players, one junior college and a Division II player.Or the 2001 girls basketball team, who had five girls offered athletic scholarships."
Flanagan deflects any credit for his squad's success over the past four years, instead choosing to shine the spotlight on others.
"I've said numerous times I have the easiest coaching job in the state," he said. "I know our staff helped them get to where there are at now andI also know kids like Tayte Thomas, Kyle Phister, Jorden James, Shelby Watson and Kendra Miller have helped this group.The 'big three' grew because they also had a great supporting cast of teammates, family and friends."
The Wolverines also had more than bunkers, rough and water hazards to negotiate on their way to success, said Flanagan.
"Our team in 2014 had 16 athletes and two coaches," he said."Of those 18 people, we had eight individuals who had to deal with life-threatening situation in their families.In fact, Jorden's father was getting a heart transplant while he was actually playing in one of our tournaments.I do think these kids see the 'big picture' -- that sports are just an aspect of life, not the ultimate measuring stick."
As far as Flanagan is concerned, there was a single example on that day four years ago in Rock Springs, which was a harbinger of things to come and perfectly illustrated the resolve which would be a trademark of this unique group of athletes, he said.
"Three of our four kids had to make putts of five feet or longer on the last hole," said Flanagan. "They all did -- now that I see they're all NCAA athletes, I can see why."
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