MISSOULA — Missoula Big Sky wrestler Hunter Meinzen jogged off the mat with a finger-length streak of blood on his forehead above his right eye.
Concerned with outcome over appearance, the sophomore focused on his upcoming 145-pound match instead of washing off the blood from a head-to-head collision with an opponent.
Meinzen won that next match on Friday to go 3-0 and advance to the semifinals of the Jug Beck Rocky Mountain Classic on Saturday at Sentinel High School.
“My face is a little beat up,” Meinzen said, pointing to the dried blood. “But I’m feeling good about today. Still always room to improve.”
A little blood is nothing when Meinzen has already overcome a broken tibia in his right leg while playing quarterback as a freshman. The injury forced him to miss half of the wrestling season last year, but he returned and finished as the State AA runner-up at 138 pounds.
“The biggest thing out of that is it wasn’t a setback. It was something that made me want to work harder,” said Meinzen, who could be the first Missoula wrestler since 2015 to win a title at the Rocky Mountain Classic.
Meinzen was getting his first wrestling action around this time last season when he competed at the 2018 Rocky Mountain Classic and lost in the first round. This season, he came into the tournament with a 19-3 record and ranked No. 3 in the state for Class AA 145-pound wrestlers.
“His confidence is higher now,” Big Sky head coach Rick Moreno said. “His ability to wrestle all three periods is better this year. He has more stamina and moves around better.”
In the stacked 145-pound weight class, Meinzen opened with an 11-1 win over U-High’s Miles Martin. He followed that up with a pin in 2:25 against Lewistown's Brandon Montano and closed the day with a 6-0 win over Hamilton’s Bridger Williams, ranked No. 2 in Class A.
Saturday, Meinzen will take on Havre’s Martin Wilkie, a three-time Class A state champ and University of Minnesota wrestling commit, in the semifinals. If he wins, he’ll face either Bozeman’s Brock Rodrigues, who’s ranked No. 1 in the state, or Great Falls CMR’s Kai Stewart, who’s ranked No. 2 and beat Meinzen in last year’s state championship match.
“I’ve never wrestled him (Wilkie) before,” Meinzen said. “You just have to expect a lot of funk out of him. He’s a tough kid.”
Thirteen Missoula-area wrestlers advance
In addition to Meinzen, 12 other wrestlers from the Missoula area made it to the semifinals.
Missoula Sentinel’s Reece Eckley was the lone wrestler from the host team to go undefeated, winning two 138-pound matches by pin and another by a 6-1 decision. He’ll face Big Sky’s Dayton Evans in the semifinals as he attempts to become the first Sentinel wrestler since 2013 to win a title at the tournament.
“He did what I expected him to do,” Sentinel head coach Jeremy LaPorte said. “He competed hard.”
Big Sky qualified four wrestlers for the semifinals, with Jett Rebish (160) and Mason Corcoran (170) joining Meinzen and Evans.
Frenchtown also got four competitors into the semifinals: Landen Stewart (103), Walker Dyer (113), Jake Bibler (120) and Cody Miller (285).
“We’re wrestling how we should be wrestling at this time in the season,” Frenchtown head coach Jesse Long said.
The others area wrestlers who advanced were Corvallis’ Dante Venema (126), Hamilton’s Michael Golden (132), Polson’s Hunter Fritsch (170) and Ronan’s Justin Mays (205).
Montana holding its own
Montana wrestlers accounted for 38 out of the 52 berths into the semifinals, with 14 coming from out-of-state teams. There are 22 teams from Montana at the tournament and 10 from Washington, Idaho and Wyoming.
“I feel if you place here (the top eight place), you’re on the path to place at state,” Corvallis head coach Matt Davis said.
Bozeman led the way with five qualifiers: Sterling Quinn (126), Leif Schroeder (132), Brock Rodrigues (145), Chance McLane (152) and Coy Cohenour (160).
Havre had three wrestlers advance with Mick Chagnon (103), Martin Wilkie (145) and Connor Harris (152). Great Falls High’s Easton Shupe (113), Elijah Davis (182) and Ethan DeRoche (285) moved on to the semifinals. Great Falls CMR also had a trio head to the semifinals with Andrew Paradise (126), Carter Carroll (138) and Kai Stewart (145).
Helena High had two wrestlers advance with Isaac Romero (120) and Devin Crawford (160). In the quarterfinals, Romero beat crosstown rival Carson DesRosier of Helena Capital by a 5-3 decision. Crawford was coming off an injury from last weekend and won both his matches by major decision.
“They both showed guts and strength,” Helena High head coach Sam Bogard said.
The other Montana wrestlers who will be in the semifinals are Helena Capital’s Zane McCormick (205), Butte’s Keagan Gransbery (103) and Kameron Moreno (205), Flathead’s Tanner Russell (170) and Paxton Boyce (182), Columbia Falls senior Colton McPhee (182), Libby’s Buddy Doolin (120), Lewistown’s Cooper Birdwell (126) and Belgrade’s John Mears (152).