Minutes after Havre’s Grayson Brenna muscled his way to a quick second-round pin, Sidney’s Gresh Jones rolled to an even faster victory on an adjacent mat.
It set the stage for a semifinal showdown between the 120-pound stalwarts, a bout that might go a long way towards deciding the Class A team champion at the state wrestling tournament Saturday night.
Still, when Friday’s proceedings finished, Havre had opened up a sizeable lead. The defending champion Blue Ponies gobbled up 143½ points on Day 1 at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark, 21½ more than Sidney and 55½ ahead of third-place Columbia Falls.
Brenna had two pins on Friday, including one on Polson’s Jaben Wenzel in 44 seconds. In both wins, Brenna wrestled for all of 1 minute, 57 seconds. By contrast, Sidney’s Jones barely got winded, wrestling for 48 seconds in his two victories, the latter of which was a 25-second pin of Frenchtown’s Preston Downard.
Brenna and Jones, each of whom looks to emerge from a loaded 120-pound bracket, have never gone head-to-head at the state tournament. Each realizes the implications of their match.
“I kind of know what he does,” Brenna said. “I’ll try to go out there and see if I can get him. I think more pressure is on him because he’s a two-time state champ. Everyone is going to expect him to get it. But if I beat him it’d be big for us.”
“The first thing I thought of was the team race,” said Jones, a junior going for title No. 3. “You’ve got to knock out their best dude. It’s going to help us out so much if I can get that win. I’m ready. I want this match.”
Regardless, Brenna and Jones aren’t expected to carry their teams, and each had plenty of help to create what essentially is a two-team race for the title. Havre put nine in the semifinals, and produced a staggering 19 pins in the championship bracket.
Not to be outdone, Sidney sent 11 to the semifinals. Aside from the Brenna-Jones bout, three key Saturday morning matchups loom large, pitting the Eagles’ Wyatt Van Buren, Trace Jones and Hunter Severson against the Blue Ponies’ Keegan Kennelly, Logan Pleninger and Tyler Adams at 106, 113 and 220 pounds.
“You just have to wrestle smart,” Brenna said.
The exploits of 126-pounder Shonn Roberts helped keep Columbia Falls in the top three. Roberts picked up pins against Dillon’s Bridger Nelson and Havre’s Dylan Stewart.
A junior, Roberts is on track to win his third straight title on Saturday. And that would put him on pace to join the fraternity of four-time champions next year, a group that includes just 23.
“I got two pins, and that’s what our team needed for sure,” said Roberts, who faces Corvallis’ Josh Venema in the semis.
“I just take it one step at a time I guess. I’ve got to get this one out of the way. Next year there will be a few really tough kids in Class A. We’ll see what weight I’ll end up at. I think I’ll go up quite a bit. That’d be good, to see more competition.”
Anaconda’s Bryan Armstrong is also shooting for a third title. Armstrong faces Havre’s Kody Pribyl in the 145-pound semifinals. Belgrade’s Jarrett Degen, the 125-pound champion last season, won twice Friday in a bid at his second crown. The 132-pound Degen is a sophomore.
In a rematch of last year’s 105-pound title match from last year, Chase Conner of Corvallis scored a surprising pin of Billings Central’s Zach Wall as part of the talented 120-pound bracket. Wall led comfortably at 7-2, but Conner turned the tables for a pin in 4:56.
Conner will face Laurel’s Clayton Carter in the semifinals.
Clay Stillwagon, a Butte Central 113-pounder, also advanced to the semis in pursuit of his second individual title.