The Western A teams know they have a tall task in front of them at the 2016 MHSA State All-Class Wrestling Tournament in Billings starting Friday.
That would be taking down the Havre Blue Ponies, who are looking for their fourth straight team title.
“They’re the best in our state -- (Class) AA, A, B-C, all the way across the board,” said Columbia Falls coach Jesse Schaeffer. “Unless something crazy happens, they’ve definitely showed over the season they’re the team to beat and they’re dominant.”
The two teams that could pull off the improbable, though, hail from the west of the very Continental Divide they’ll cross on the long drive to the MetraPark Arena.
Polson, which takes 12 to state, might have the best shot. Columbia Falls’ depth nipped the Pirates at the divisional tournament, but Polson is the second-ranked team (behind Havre), and has six wrestlers in the latest top-five Class A wrestling poll.
And the one who isn’t ranked actually got the top seed from the West at state for 103 pounds.
Polson’s Mateo Quinones, a sophomore, beat his teammate and top-ranked Rene (RJ) Pierre in the divisional championship at 103 pounds. Polson sends both of them to state, with each getting a first-round bye.
“That was a pretty big upset, but it didn’t hurt anything for us -- it was actually a good problem to have. Our hope is those two can run into each other again Saturday night this week,” Polson coach Bob Owen said.
Owen also expects his other champions at the divisional, Bridger Wenzel at 120 pounds and Cameron Brown (132), to have a good showing at state.
“Bridger is one of the more skilled wrestlers we’ve had come in as a freshman, he’s really tough, and he’s going to be a contender at his weight for sure,” said Owen about Wenzel, who has actually split in his two matches with top-ranked Martin Wilkie out of Havre.
Brown, who finished fifth a season ago, is ranked third going into state. He trails Clayton Carter out of Laurel and No. 1 ranked Logan Pleninger from -- you guessed it -- Havre.
The West’s other chance at landing a team title rests with the Mat Cats out of Columbia Falls. They bring the most depth -- 17 wrestlers -- along with a Western A Divisional title.
They’ll need the same team-scoring effort they had at the Western A if they want to pull off the upset.
“For us, that was our big thing -- numbers, numbers, numbers. Each one of the 17 needs to do their job to put some points on the team race and look for falls, and just find a way to be in the top three and bring a trophy home for the weekend,” coach Schaeffer said.
Look for top-ranked 138-pound grappler Caleb Gravelin and the No. 2 at 145 pounds, Mason Fetters, to compete for an individual crown and score some big points for C-Falls.
Other area standouts who are looking to bring home some hardware include Hamilton’s Justin Hinson (23-1) at 205 pounds, Stevensville’s Ben Crews (170 pounds) and Jerry Cassidy (182).
Luke Channer also looks to take home a title from a tough heavyweight group. He suits up for the Corvallis Blue Devils, the last team not named the Blue Ponies to win a team title.
Out of the B-C brackets, the East again holds the upperhand, but Eureka might just be ready to take the leap to the top of the podium.
The No. 2 ranked Lions finished fourth a year ago, and they bring 10 to state. Garrett Graves, who won the Western B-C, puts his 40-5 record (according to MHSA) to the test against Shepherd’s Sonny Cochran in the 170-pound opener.
Kahden Bakkila, Jonathan Schmidt and Joe Fehr were all also divisional winners and are expected to score high for Eureka.
“They have a lot of older wrestlers that are kind of leading them toward the top,” said Ronan coach James Muir about the Lions.
Muir's squad should expect to see some individual champions, too. Hunter Peterson is the No. 2-ranked wrestler at 113 pounds and has just one loss on the season. Jared Neiss won the 145-pound division, and coach Muir expects both to be wrestling late into Saturday.
“I expect to see (Peterson) in the finals at 113 pounds. We have not seen the No. 1 ranked kid, but I’m pretty confident in Hunter’s skills and his mindset to get the job done.
“… I believe Jared will be in the finals as well. He’s looking real smooth and really technical in his wrestling,” Muir said.
In other action, Forsyth’s Luke Weber goes for his fourth straight title and is 50-0 according to the MHSA headed into this weekend. Belgrade’s Jarrett Degen also goes for his fourth straight.
They both look to join an elite class of just 23 wrestlers to achieve that feat among all classes.