Belgrade's Sawyer Degen and Corvalis' Will Wissenbach

Belgrade's Sawyer Degen wrestles Corvalis' Will Wissenbach in their class A 138-pound match during the Montana All-Class State Wrestling Tournament at Rimrock Auto Arena on Friday. Degen is trying to become a four-time state champion.

BRONTE WITTPENN, Gazette Staff

He starts with the shoelaces.

They have to be just right.

No twists, no folds, they have to be perfectly flat as they work their way up his wrestling shoes.

“It’s very important,” Sawyer Degen said, breaking into a big smile. “It could be the difference of them match.”

Not likely. But every edge helps.

The Belgrade senior is one of four wrestlers just two victories away from being four-time state champions at the annual All-Class State Wrestling Tournament at Rimrock Arena.

The others are Clayton Currier of Colstrip, along with Havre teammates Parker Filius and Jase Stokes.

Degen is also trying to become the second four-time champion in his family. Older brother Jarrett accomplished the feat last year. He is redshirting this season at Virginia Tech.

“Oh yes, there is definitely some pressure,” the younger Degen said of following his brother. “It has been hard sometimes under his shadow. I have to do as good as he does.”

And he has.

Degen, according to trackwrestling.com, is unbeaten. He ran his record to 38-0 by pinning Caden Brown of Hamilton in 1:10 and following with a physical 20-7 win over Will Wissenback of Corvallis-Darby.

Degen is quick to credit his brother for his success. The two have been practice partners for years, starting when both were in youth wrestling.

A room in the family home has holes in the wall to prove it.

“There were two rooms and we took out the middle wall to make it bigger,” Degen explained.

“We put holes all over the sheet rock. From heads, hands, feet … from wrestling and fighting,” he finished, flashing another smile. “My brother has helped me a lot. When we practice together and I take a bad shot, he won’t let me finish. If I do it right, he lets me finish.

“If we’re practicing together and I know he’s trying and I get a take down on him, it makes me feel really good.”

He also wears one white knee pad and one black knee pad, just like Jarrett, only on opposite knees.

Degen has already won titles at 98, 113 and 126 pounds. He has eight pins in state tournament competition.

“I enjoy the team part,” he said of wrestling. “And having friends on teams from around the state. We all know each other and wrestle in the same tournaments. Everywhere I go, I have good friends.”

Taller than most opponents, the well-conditioned Degen is a relentless attacker. Few can match his stamina.

He ran track and field last spring for the first time, finishing second at the Class A state meet in the 3,200 meters. He also finished second this past fall at the Class A state cross country meet.

He was convinced to run by best friend Jacob Grinwis. “Actually, I was surprised I did so well,” Degen said. “And I’m very competitive. When somebody passes me, I push harder to pass them back.”

Among other things.

“Maybe shoot a double leg on them as they go by,” he added of other options. “Running has made me mentally tough. I know I can go the full six minutes.

‘I love both sports.”

Degen plans to wrestle in college, but doesn’t know where yet. He still has some unfinished business Saturday.

“My brother Jarrett called me,” Degen said. “He told me, ‘You know what you have to do. Go do it.’ ”

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High School Sports, Rodeo Reporter

Sports writer for The Billings Gazette.