With 18 championships between them, Havre and Sidney own the Class A wrestling landscape. Of the 17 state tournaments held since 1997, the two have combined to win 13.
The Blue Ponies and Eagles — their coaches and their wrestlers — command attention each year when they stride into Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark. And they’re expected to clash for the title at the state tournament this weekend.
“It’ll be two heavyweights going at it,” said Sidney coach Guy Melby. “Whoever punches the most and the hardest is going to win. And we’ve been punching pretty hard all year.”
“I would say us and Sidney are in the driver’s seat,” said Scott Filius, coach of defending champion Havre. “It’s always fun to compete against Sidney because they do things the right way.”
On paper, the Eagles and Blue Ponies look similar. Each qualified 17 wrestlers to the tournament, and each has one returning champion (at the same weight, no less). When the points start adding up, especially on Saturday, who will be the difference-makers?
Sidney’s Gresh Jones and Havre’s Grayson Brenna each won individual titles last year and are back to defend them in a loaded 120-pound weight class. A potential Jones-Brenna showdown looms in the semifinals Saturday morning.
Jones, a junior with a 46-2 record, is seeking his third title. He won at 112 pounds as freshman and at 119 last year. Brenna, 38-3 this season, was the 105-pound winner a year ago.
“Gresh is going for No. 3. He’s wrestling really, really well,” Melby said. “And he’s taken a couple hits this year, as has everybody on our team. Nobody’s undefeated, which means we’ve been to some great places.”
“Grayson is a great kid and he’s a leader on our team,” Filius said. “He’s done a nice job all year.”
Havre has won five of the last seven Class A team titles. Sidney hasn’t won one since 2006, which was the end of a string of four in a row.
Naturally, Melby and the Eagles are hungry.
“Back in ’06 these guys were in grade school,” Melby said. “They know they’ve got a chance to be a part of a legacy, and we’ve been using that as motivation. We’re ready to get back in the saddle. It’d be great to taste that state championship again.”
Around Class A
n The stout 120-pound weight class also includes former champ Chase Conner of Corvallis and two-time finalist Zach Wall of Billings Central. Conner beat Wall for the 105-pound title two seasons ago by a 14-10 decision.
n Overall, there will be seven returning Class A champions on the mat this weekend. Butte Central’s Clay Stillwagon (113 pounds), Columbia Falls’ Shonn Roberts (126), Belgrade’s Jarrett Degen (132) and Anaconda’s Bryan Armstrong (145) are the others.
Armstrong, a senior, seeks his third title. He won at 105 in 2012 with Butte High, and again at 130 with the Copperheads last year. Degen is a sophomore going for No. 2. He was the 125-pound titlist in 2013.
n Conner of Corvallis and Roberts of Columbia Falls look to help keep their teams in the hunt. Melby mentioned both as potential title contenders because of their numbers: Columbia Falls boasts 18 qualifiers, while Corvallis brings 17.