Columbia Falls isn’t favored to win the Class A wrestling crown, but after an upset win at the Northwestern A divisional tournament, the Mat Cats shouldn’t be counted out.
Frenchtown entered Northwestern A divisionals a heavy favorite, but Columbia Falls won six individual titles and outpointed the Broncs 255 to 218.5 in the team race.
Despite that victory, the Mat Cats are still considered underdogs at the Class A state tournament today and Saturday at Rimrock Auto Arena in Billings.
Columbia Falls coach Jessie Schaeffer and Libby coach Kelly Morford each pointed to Eastern A’s Sidney and Glendive as favorites along with Havre and Belgrade from Central A, but Columbia Falls could be in the mix for fifth place along with Frenchtown.
“I think fifth and sixth are up for grabs right now,” Schaeffer said.
Columbia Falls and Libby are each sending a returning individual champion to the state tournament.
Columbia Falls’ Shonn Roberts won last year’s 98-pound title and is currently the top-ranked wrestler at 112. Libby’s Mitch Haugen won the 130-pound title last season and is currently ranked third at 135.
Whitefish also has a state title hopeful in heavyweight Wolf Zinke, who lost in last year’s championship match, and Polson is led by state tournament veterans Craig Feistner, 140, and Carlos Quinones, 119.
Columbia Falls leads area Class A schools with 18 state qualifiers, Libby and Polson each have 10 and Whitefish has eight.
“This last weekend a good group of the kids really stepped it up,” Schaeffer said. “We turned around six different matches we had lost previously in the year. Right now everything just kind of starts over.
“This weekend all 18 of those kids better be ready to step on that mat and get some big wins for us.”
Schaeffer said he has no doubt Roberts will answer the bell.
“He looks great right now,” Schaeffer said.
“He’s healthy, his weight management has been phenomenal, his work ethic has been great. He has a true passion for the sport and there’s no doubt he’s one of the best 112-pounders in the state.”
Also winning divisional titles for Columbia Falls were Cameron Linstead, 105, Josiah Osborne, 130, Bryan Schaffer, 145, and Jacob Burgess, 160.
Schaeffer said the state tournament will be a success if six of his wrestlers reach the podium by finishing in the top six of their weight classes.
“We would love to have more than that, absolutely, but right now I think six would be a good thing,” he said.
Libby placed third at divisionals and had three individual champions in Haugen, Zach Crace, 125, and Zach Dolezal, 215.
“Honestly, we were hoping to wrestle a little better, but we had 10 guys make it through and hopefully they can make the best of it at state,” Morford said.
The tallest hurdle between Haugen and a second state title is likely Belgrade’s Bryce Weatherston, a three-time state finalist and the No. 1-ranked wrestler at 135. Morford said Haugen will have to follow the same formula that worked last year if he wants to add more hardware to his trophy case.
“When he got into tight situations, he was able to stick with the gameplan and wrestle solid,” Morford said of Haugen.
“Not all kids have the ability to do that in a pressure situation.”
Crace placed sixth at 119 a year ago and ranks third at 125 this season.
“I think he’s got as good a shot as anybody on our team to go in there and wrestle for a state title,” Morford said.
Polson took fourth out of five teams at divisionals and had two individual champions in Feistner and Quinones. Feistner is a three-time state placer who took third at 98 as a freshman, second at 112 as a sophomore and third at 125 last year. Quinones is a two-time state placer, taking fifth at 112 last year and third at 98 in 2011.
In Class B-C, Eureka is sending five wrestlers to the state tournament. While that’s not enough to make a splash in the team standings, coach Dan Lemer hopes to see some individual success from his wrestlers.
“Obviously we have a small team, but individually we have a lot of high goals that are very reachable,” Lemer said. “Bringing home a state medal for each of these guys is a realistic goal. There could be a couple state champions on this team as well.”
Eureka has two Western B divisional champions in Garrett White (30-5, 20 pins) and Zach Durden (34-3, 20 pins), who are ranked third at 112 and 119, respectively. White placed second at 105 at last year’s state tournament while Durden was fifth at 112.
White’s biggest competition will likely come from Kylan Berkram of Cut Bank, who has defeated White both times they’ve wrestled.
“For Garrett to win a state title, he’s going to need to win matches on his feet,” Lemer said. “He’s going to need to get that initial takedown. He’s not going to want to get behind and have to battle back.”
Durden might be a good model on that front.
“His takedowns are absolutely amazing,” Lemer said of Durden. “Throughout the season he’s been a beast on his feet. I think he can take down anybody he wants when he’s on fire.”
Josh Schmidt (27-11, 15 pins), 112, and Nikko Bakkila (34-10, 26 pins), 135, were runners-up at divisionals while Jarrett Pecora (14-12, 12 pins), 130, was third.
The Class A and B-C state tournaments both begin today at 10 a.m.
State A Wrestling: Havre again a top contender
Havre's Grant Pattison works on Frenchtown's David Anderson in their 171 pound quarterfinal match during last year's State A tournament. TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO/RION SANDERS
And it could well continue, for the Ponies are among a handful of favorites expected to battle for state supremacy here at the Metra.
The Blue Ponies of head coach Scott Filius won four straight State A titles from 2007-2010. Havre was second in 2011 and finished third last year behind state champion Corvallis and runner-up Laurel.
The Ponies have won seven team championships since 1997 under Filius, a former Billings prep star and Montana State-Northern All-American grappler. Havre will have 17 wrestlers, including seven divisional champions, in the lineup today.
The Ponies have been second-ranked most of the season behind Sidney, but it appears as if the Glendive Red Devils might be the team to beat. Glendive upset Sidney at last week’s Eastern A Divisional meet.
Both Glendive and Sidney had nine wrestlers in the finals at the divisional meet. Six Red Devils won titles, while three prevailed from Sidney.
Teams from Belgrade and Lewistown, which features stars Jim Malone, Hunter Grover and Ethan Blythe, could also make some noise.
Havre's top wrestlers are Grant Pattison at (33-4 at 189), freshman Keegan Kennelly at (26-5 at 98), Grayson Brenna (30-5 at 105), Tyler Adams (32-5 at 215) and Dylan Stewart (32-8 at 112).
All must be considered championship contenders.
Glendive, Sidney aim for elusive Class A wrestling crown
Now might be as good a time as any.
Fresh off a first-place finish at last weekend’s Eastern A tournament, the Red Devils enter the state wrestling tournament Friday with high expectations and plenty of momentum.
The Class A team race could go a number of ways for a number of teams — Sidney, Havre, Corvallis and Belgrade come to mind — but the Red Devils plan to be right in the mix to win their first title this weekend at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark.
“Everybody’s feeling pretty good,” said Zody, whose team knocked off rival Sidney to win the division crown. “We came out of the divisional tournament healthy, and we’re just going to follow the same plan we used last week. If it’s not broke we’re not going to try to fix it.”
Of Glendive’s 14 state qualifiers, six won individual titles at divisionals: Tate Stortz at 125 pounds, Dillon Tennant at 130, Layne Lantis at 135, Dillon Beeler at 140, Tyler Kinn at 145 and Cole Bilbrey at 160.
Tennant and Kinn have both won championships in the past. Kinn, in fact, is shooting for his third title after finishing second last season. Tennant is chasing his second championship after injuring his knee and missing out on last year’s state tournament.
Overall, Zody predicts a tight race.
“I think just taking a look at the results and kind of where everybody’s at, it’s spread out to the point that any one of four teams could come away with it,” Zody said. “It could be real interesting.
“It’s going to come down to getting those extra points, those pins and those guys getting thirds and fourths. It’s going to be close.”
More often than not the state title comes down to numbers. Whichever team qualifies the most guys and wins the most matches early gets a big jump on the competition.
Glendive is in pretty good shape numbers-wise, but Sidney and Havre are bringing a truckload of qualifiers, which should help them contend too.
Longtime Sidney coach Guy Melby said the Eastern A tournament “was an eye-opener for us to say the least. It took us awhile to digest it. Truthfully, Glendive had a great day and we just had a good day.
“We’ve got 16 guys headed to the state tournament, and if I have it right Havre has 17. The more you have the better your chances are. As far as we’re concerned everybody’s record is 0-0.”
Sidney 112-pounder Gresh Jones, a sophomore, is seeking his second straight individual crown. Jones rolled to the division title last weekend.
Melby also believes Ethan Graves at 105, Jordan Stevens at 140, Dickinson, N.D., transfer Ryder Peterson at 171 and others will be in contention.
Four other individual state champions return in the Class A bracket, which could make for some big-time matchups later in the tournament. Columbia Falls’ Shonn Roberts and Corvallis’ Chase Connor are both at 112 pounds, while Belgrade’s Bryce Weatherston of Belgrade and Libby’s Mitch Haugen are both at 135.
Weatherston is chasing his third title.
Laurel 130-pounder Karson Kukes, a former champion, is chasing his fourth straight finals appearance. Locomotives heavyweight Cody Stone-Murphy could also make a run.
Havre's Grant Pattison, at 189 pounds, is another to watch, among several others.