4 going for 4: Four wrestlers seeking to become 4-time champions this weekend

2012-02-09T22:30:00Z 2012-02-10T21:25:37Z 4 going for 4: Four wrestlers seeking to become 4-time champions this weekendBy MIKE ZIMMER mzimmer@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette
February 09, 2012 10:30 pm  • 

A total of 19 wrestlers in Montana history have won four individual state championships.

In a span of less than two hours on Saturday evening, that number could increase by more than 20 percent.

"It's amazing ... unbelievable, really," said Sidney coach Guy Melby. "I've been doing this for 26 years and I've never seen anything like it. Nineteen all-time in the state, and now we get four in one year ... we've never had three do it in one year.

"But the bottom line is they haven't won it yet. Just like I told our kids, you have to wrestle every match like it's the finals. No one's going to hand you anything ... you have to go out and win it."

Cole Mendenhall (140 pounds) of Great Falls High, Luke Schlosser (119) of Conrad, Ben Stroh (189) of Chinook and Luke Zeiger (140) of Glasgow will be trying to do just that. The state wrestling tournament begins today at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark, and the finals are scheduled for Saturday at 4 p.m.

As the coach of Team Montana, which takes high school and middle school teams to national tournaments each summer, Melby is familiar with all four potential four-timers. Also familiar with all four is Chinook co-coach Perry Miller, who also runs the Chinook AAU Wrestling Club in the spring and summer.

"I've known these kids since they first crawled out onto a mat ... probably when they were four or five years old," said Miller. "It's tremendous to see all of them having a chance to be four-timers.

"I just hope everyone understands what it means as far as the dedication and commitment and drive that these kids have as wrestlers. And the commitment and willingness of their families to drive them and fly them to all the camps and tournaments that helped them get to this point."

From a sheer numbers standpoint, Stroh is the headliner of the foursome.

The University of Wyoming signee has not lost a match in the past three seasons -- his only two losses came as a freshman, both against Ethan Hinebauch of Havre -- and remarkably Stroh has pinned his last 97 opponents, which is believed to be a national record.

"Ben has all the tools," said Miller. "He has incredible balance and speed and strength. He's never not in control of a match, and he doesn't get out of position.

"As far as the pins, the key to that is that Ben is always on the attack. He never stops going forward and he never stops trying to score. You can't run from him ... he will hunt you down and make you wrestle."

Mendenhall is 32-3 on the season and is unbeaten against Class AA competition -- all three of his losses have come to Zeiger.

"He's a tough kid," Miller said of Mendenhall. "He's got three older brothers who were all outstanding wrestlers and Cole grew up with them banging on him all the time. That will make you tough in a hurry."

Billings Skyview coach Rich Malia, whose son Beau was a four-time state champ, said he's not surprised that Mendenhall is going for a fourth title.

"I remember watching him as a freshman and sophomore, and he's always been one of those kids who's always in great position and extremely hard to score on," said Malia. "He's got a great stance, and he's a scrambler. He's the complete package."

Zeiger, who's 39-1 this season, might have the most impressive resume of the four. As a freshman, he singlehandedly prevented one opponent from joining the list of four-timers -- stunning then-unbeaten sophomore Val Rauser of Townsend in the finals -- and this season he's won three out of four head-to-head matchups with Mendenhall.

"Ziggy has put a ton of time into wrestling ... all of these kids have," Miller said of Zeiger. "He's been all over the place with Team Montana and he's been to a ton of camps.

"The thing that makes Ziggy so tough is he's got an uncanny ability to turn other guys' moves into his stuff. You think you've got a takedown on him, and in the blink of an eye he's turned you around and scored five points for himself."

Miller said preparation is the key to the success of Schlosser, who's 37-1 this season.

"He's just tough, not only physically but mentally," he said. "He's just one of those kids who knows what they want to do when they get on the mat, and he goes out and does it. I've seen Luke wrestle some really tight matches this year ... he just stays with his game plan and finds a way to win."

The number of four-time champions in the state has grown rapidly in recent years. Only 10 wrestlers accomplished the feat from 1963 to 2000, and nine more have joined the list in the last decade.

Melby said those numbers are no fluke, and no accident.

"It's all about hard work and putting in the time," he said. "I get guys from all over the country to come to our camps, and they're always impressed with the work ethic of the Montana kids. You can see it in the number of Montana kids that are wrestling in college.

"The word is out that Montana kids are not afraid to go to work and get their hands dirty. These four kids are a perfect example of that."

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