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Campbell gains first female wrestler to sign letter of intent

Chaylin's father, Tron Riley (from left); Chaylin and Chaylin's mother, Lin, celebrate the occasion. (Mary Stroka/County 17)

GILLETTE, Wyo. — According to Thunder Basin High School staff, tonight marked a new first for Campbell County.

Chaylin Riley, a senior at Thunder Basin, is the first young Campbell County woman to sign a letter of intent to wrestle at the college level. She plans to attend Chadron State College, which is in Nebraska. She signed the letter in front of friends, family and Thunder Basin staff.

Chaylin Riley, left, and Head Wrestling Coach Mikah Kadera (Mary Stroka/County 17)

Head wrestling coach Mikah Kadera said Riley’s accomplishment is exciting for the school’s whole wrestling program, especially the relatively new girls’ program, he said. He believes other young women will receive offers in the future.

“It’s exciting for Chay, obviously, but exciting for everyone involved in the program,” Kadera said.

Thunder Basin girls wrestling’s first season was in the winter of 2022–23, according to wrestling coach Eric Finn. Since Thunder Basin’s program for girls was so new, with only around seven girls in that season, the girls often chose to practice with the boys depending on weight class. For example, Landon Maston, a junior, is Riley’s main wrestling partner.

“He’s like a brother,” Riley said.

Chaylin Riley and the Thunder Basin High School wrestling coaches. (Mary Stroka/County 17)

She said she selected Chadron from among other offers because she meshed with them so much that she could envision them as “her people.” The connection she felt is what she wanted to have with her new team.

“I could tease with them; we could mess around,” she said. “They work hard. They play hard.”

Riley said that seeing the results of her own hard work is something that she loves about the sport. She got into wrestling after 12 years in gymnastics, which saw her reach the highest levels in Wyoming. She was a judge, a coach and a spring 2022 state champion — then she broke one of her feet. Running and the impact involved in tumbling are the challenges that prevented her from returning to gymnastics. After trying out swimming and diving, she learned those weren’t for her. She turned to wrestling, and, as she was surprised to find, she loved it. She became the first and only girl from Campbell County to win a match at nationals in Virginia Beach for wrestling and the first to go to a boys-only camp at the University of Mary in North Dakota.

Chaylin Riley in a wrestling match. (Lin Riley)

Riley’s gymnastics background likely helped her succeed in wrestling, as both sports require developing the skills of using one’s own balance and the balance of the opponent against them, Finn said. Riley has placed in several tournaments, including state, and has a good foundation. She has excelled in positioning herself on the mat and being able to be reactive and agile. Starting a brand-new, competitive sport as a junior in high school can be taxing, and Riley was incredibly receptive to learning and overcoming adversity throughout the season.

“She was just a sponge,” Finn said.

The 2023–24 Thunder Basin wrestling season starts Nov. 20, Finn said.

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