The top divisional teams from western Montana’s 2012 small-school wrestling season should all be challenging for superiority again this year with a bulk of their division champs back on the mats.
That means look out for Corvallis and Frenchtown in Southwestern A wrestling, Columbia Falls in the North, and the matmen from Ronan and St. Ignatius in the hulking Western B-C division.
In the Southwestern A, Corvallis brings back four state placers from last year’s seventh-place squad, with another coming off the bench after missing a year.
Josh Venema is a three-time placer, most recently fourth at 119 pounds, the same finish now-senior Wyatt Jessop earned at 160 last winter. Chase Conner took fifth as a 112-pound sophomore, one better than senior Gunnar Fairbrother at 125 pounds.
Then there’s Tyler Olson, who was second at state for the 2011-12 state champion Corvallis team at 112 pounds, but missed most of last year with an injury. He’s now a junior.
The Blue Devils, whose squad includes wrestlers from Darby, are still looking for their lightweights, though, with some holes down low at 98 and 106 pounds that will cost them points in duals, coach Jeff Nagel said.
“I even put in the school announcements, ‘If you’re 98 pounds, come on out and you’re varsity,’ ” Nagel laughed. “Well, what can you do?”
Other area Southwestern A wrestlers to watch include:
Hamilton’s team, which includes Victor, has state wrestlers Coltin Cox (126), Easton Albert (138) and Michael Bumgarner (195) back. Bumgarner won his weight at the Polson Invitational last weekend, a meet of 14 schools with many from the western A and B-C classes.
For first-year program Stevensville, success will have to come on an individual level with only 15 to 18 kids out. First-time wrestlers and good athletes like senior Kyle Behner (190) and sophomore Kordale Behner should show progress to challenge at districts by the season’s end. Experienced youngsters like sophomore Colton Nielson and freshman Ben Crews could wind up in that same boat.
The Columbia Falls Wildcats rode five champs to last year’s Northwestern A divisional title over Frenchtown, and three of those boys return for another go in 2013. That includes state titlist Shonn Roberts, part of his team’s sixth-place state finish.
Roberts won the 112-pound class at the State A meet last February, but he’s up a few classes this season. He earned a pin victory at 126 in C. Falls’ first dual of the season last Friday, an 81-0 blanking of Whitefish.
Look for good things too out of Bryan Shaffer and Jacob Burgess. Both were divisional champs and though Burgess came up short at state, Shaffer landed a sixth-place finish at 145 pounds.
Only one of Frenchtown’s divisional champions returns, but two more state-placing wrestlers are in this winter’s lineup.
Cody Warner ended up fourth at state in the 98-pound bracket as a freshman and he’s up to 106 pounds this winter. Cody Lemons and Tyler Ishler were each divisional runners-up who placed at state (Lemons fourth at 145, Ishler sixth at 126) who will provide strength in the middle of the Broncs’ lineup.
Wrestlers from Alberton help make up the Broncs.
Other Northwestern A wrestlers to watch include:
Junior Zach Crace of Libby could again challenge for a championship. He was third at state after a divisional runner-up at 125 pounds. Garrett Chapel was fifth at state at 152 pounds. Both are juniors. Wrestlers from Troy also compete with the Loggers.
Polson showcased a trio of returning state qualifiers at its home invitational last Saturday. Tel Seemann (182) placed second in that tournament while Thunder Morales and Tel Motichka also finished in the top four. The latter two had state wins in 2012-13.
Whitefish boys Matt Barton, Judah Prestegaard and Matthew Sampson were all third-place finishers at the divisional meet and all return as juniors now at 126, 145 and 152 pounds, respectively.