Sidney shocked the state by walloping five-time-defending state champion Havre in the Eastern divisional last weekend, and Class A coaches nearly unanimously say the Eagles and Blue Ponies are the far-and-away favorites to finish first and second, in an order to be determined, this weekend at the all-class state wrestling tournament in Billings.
“Sidney is obviously the team to beat right now,” Polson coach Bob Owen said. “Nobody expected them to smoke Havre like that in the divisionals. They’ve set the table very well for themselves. Sidney and Havre are a little cut above the rest.”
The real battle, Owen and others say, will be for the final podium position, and several area teams have their sights set on that third-place spot.
Competition begins at the MetraPark at 10:20 a.m. today.
All wrestling matches will be broadcast on NFHS Network, which can be accessed through mhsa.org.
Owen was pleasantly surprised by his team’s strong showing at divisional.
The Pirates, returning to the state tournament after a fifth-place finish last season, qualified 12 wrestlers, including at least one in 10 of 13 weight classes. They will not be represented in 126, 160 or 285.
“Very pleased,” Owen said. “I thought we were going to have 10 and maybe 11 (state qualifiers).
“We seeded our wrestlers pretty well. Having four finalists and a couple of third-placers, that put us in a pretty good spot.”
Three of Polson’s four divisional finalists — Bridger Wenzel (132), Cameron Brown (145) and Parker Adler (152) — won their championship matches, giving themselves the top seed entering the state tournament.
Similar performances this weekend would put Polson in prime position to improve on last year’s team finish.
“The fight for that third place is, I think, going to be a real war,” Owen said. “I would put us in the mix.”
Polson State Lineup
103 — Maysn Cobb, Freshman, 29-16
113 — Mateo Quinones, Senior, 35-13
113 — RJ Pierre, Junior, 29-11
120 — Kedrick Baker, Sophomore, 22-17
132 — Bridger Wenzel, Junior, 40-9
138 — Jarod Farrier, Junior, 14-15
145 — Cameron Brown, Senior, 34-7
145 — Kaleb Unger, Junior, 13-9
152 — Parker Adler, Senior, 42-4
170 — Hunter Fritsch, Junior, 23-9
182 — Noah Humphrey, Senior, 19-17
205 — Jasper Drake, Junior, 7-13
Columbia Falls coach Jessie Schaeffer admittedly isn’t sure how his team will fare at the state tournament, but it’s not at the forefront of his mind.
The focus for his team, he said, is garnering the best individual finishes possible from its 11 state qualifiers and letting the chips fall where they may in the team standings.
“We’re going in individually, and how the team race ends up, that’s where we are,” he said. “Right now, we have some kids that are in great places to place very, very high (and) a couple of individuals who could walk away with state titles.”
Those individuals include Ben Windauer (170), Colten McPhee (182) and Taylor Gladeau (285), all of whom took home divisional titles. Windauer finished second at state last year as a junior.
Brandon Thomas (132), Jakob Freeman (205) and Kyler Koski (285) were runners-up at the divisional tournament and are also capable of making some noise at state.
With state qualifiers in only eight of 13 possible weight classes, it will be difficult for the MatCats to replicate last year’s second-place finish.
Schaeffer said he hopes to see his team finish in the top 5 and potentially sneak onto the podium, but the margin of error is thin.
“If we have a tournament like we’re capable of, there’s definitely a great chance we can get in that third place,” he said. “There’s probably going to be a 30-point difference between third and eighth (place), so we have to have one kid step it up. We have to have a lucky break here and there. It’s definitely not out of the cards.”
Columbia Falls State Lineup
132 — Ayden Role, Junior, 23-11
132 — Brandon Thomas, Senior, 21-14
138 — Easton Sempf, Sophomore, 16-21
145 — Nathan Hader, Senior, 27-17
160 — Braydon Stone, Sophomore, 20-18
170 — Ben Windauer, Senior, 42-8
182 — Colten McPhee, Junior, 40-9
182 — Fisher Billsbourgh, Junior, 11-9
205 — Jakob Freeman, Junior, 29-13
285 — Kyler Koski, Senior, 18-6
285 — Taylor Gladeau, Sophomore, 29-5
The divisional tournament provided good and bad news for Libby.
The good news?
The Loggers, in their first year back in Class A after a stint down in Class B, proved they belong in the competitive Western conference by qualifying 12 wrestlers in the divisional tournament, tied with Polson and Ronan for second-most behind Frenchtown’s 14.
The bad news?
The qualifiers’ performances in the seeding rounds weren’t quite at the level coach Kelly Morford had hoped for, meaning some wrestlers will face an uphill climb against tougher opponents in the opening rounds at state.
“We were happy to get 12 guys through, as it may be the most we have qualified since I have been coaching,” Morford said. “We dropped some placement matches I thought we could have won, so our first-round matchups are a little tougher than they need to be. With that being said, the West was so deep this year, I think some of our lower-seeded kids have a real opportunity to knock some people off. If we wrestle well, I think we have some kids that can surprise some people.”
Look for the lighter weights to carry a heavy load for Libby.
Buddy Doolin, the Western divisional champ at 113, won the 103 title in Class B last year and is expected to compete for another individual championship this weekend. Dillon Yeadon, a state placer at 113 last year in Class B, is now looking to make a run at 120 after a strong divisional showing.
“It will be no small task for him to repeat with the number of quality kids in his bracket, but his past experience and success will be a valuable asset for him,” Morford said of Doolin.
“We also have some other guys that can place if they wrestle to their potential,” he added. “It will be a fun weekend with a lot of tough matches. I think you will see the West better represented than people think once the dust settles.”
Libby State Lineup
113 — Buddy Doolin, Junior, 32-4
120 — Dillon Yeadon, Sophomore, 14-7
120 — Zack Morrison, Freshman, 26-13
126 — Mason Sams, Senior, 15-16
126 — Xander Spady, Freshman, 19-10
132 — Trey Thompson, Sophomore, 37-10
138 — Jeff Offenbecher, Sophomore, 33-21
152 — Dawson Young, Freshman, 35-18
160 — Tim Carvey, Senior, 29-17
170 — Tanner Wood, Senior, 23-29
182 — Ethan Borden, Junior, 13-24
285 — Cyrus Sweedman, Sophomore, 32-17
Whitefish enters the state tournament with a tall task — replacing the vast majority of its points from last year because of one wrestler’s graduation.
Travis Catina made a run to the finals at 205 in 2017, contributing most of the Bulldogs’ points along the way.
Now, without Catina or a single dominant wrestler like him, Whitefish must scrap together enough points from its five state qualifiers if it intends to match last year’s finish.
“The five that wrestled, that placed, they wrestled well,” Whitefish coach Ryan Boyle said of his team’s performance at the Western divisional. “It wasn’t our best tournament, by far. I was expecting some more to get out of divisionals, and we had opportunities to get a couple more.”
Given the smaller number of qualifiers than expected, Boyle’s objective for state is simple.
“Wrestle hard,” he said. “That’s the whole thing, just to compete. We had some matches at the divisional tournament that we could have won, and we just didn’t compete as well as we had been all year.”
Regardless of the team’s finishing place, Boyle also said he’d like to see at least two of Whitefish’s five wrestlers make it onto the podium.
“That’s a good number for us,” Boyle said. “If we could do that, that would be huge.”
Whitefish State Lineup
103 — Nathan Sproul, Freshman
113 — Dean Kellogg, Junior
138 — Dakota Flannery, Sophomore
145 — Jack Eisenbarth, Junior
152 — Robert Bertelsen, Junior
Records not available