The second-most anticipated weekend of the year in Montana prep wrestling is upon us. Divisional wrestling tournaments are slated to go off across the state on Saturday.
The Eastern AA is at Butte High School, while the Eastern A is at Sidney High School, the Northern B-C at Harlem High School, the Southern B-C at Jefferson High School and the Eastern B-C at Colstrip High School.
Other tournaments and locations are: the Western AA at Helena High, the Central A at Browning High, the Southwestern A at Butte Central, the Northwestern A at Libby and the Western B-C at Ronan High.
Second-year Butte coach Jim Bob Humphrey expects heated competition at the Eastern AA meet. Three of the top four ranked teams are from the East in No. 1 and defending state champ Great Falls, No. 2 and last year’s state-runner-up Billings Skyview and No. 3 Bozeman. Missoula Sentinel, which finished third at state last year, is rated No. 4 by the AA coaches.
At the AA Duals, Great Falls was first, Skyview second and Bozeman won the third-fourth place match over Sentinel by forfeit.
The Bison’s Jarren Komac, Tommy McMillen and Austin Shupe all won state titles last year at 105, 112 and 130, respectively. Komac (113), McMillen (126) and Shupe (138) were also ranked No. 1 in the last AA Coaches Poll.
“The divisional will be a blood bath with Skyview, Great Falls High, Senior, Bozeman, West, CMR, all of them,” Humphrey said. “Great Falls is solid and scrappy at every weight. I believe they have three or four returning state champs. They are well-coached and a really good team. Skyview, if they are behind them, there is not much difference.”
Longtime Skyview coach Rich Malia said the Falcons are a little “banged-up,” but noted most teams are in the same boat at this point in the season. He said the Falcons are aiming to take a full squad of 30 wrestlers to divisionals, but might have to settle for a number in the high 20s.
“At divisionals, there are probably five of the seven teams that are pretty solid,” Malia said. “The other teams have really good individuals. It would be interesting to go through the bracket and see how many of the (Eastern) kids place in the top four at state.”
The Bulldogs dropped a pair of duals in Billings to Skyview and West, falling to Skyview 72-12 and West 45-36. However, Humphrey believes his squad of 35 is progressing and will put on a nice show for the hometown fans at divisionals. He said his team has been gaining confidence and the belief that it can compete at the varsity level. The young Bulldogs start “a dozen freshmen or sophomores,” Humphrey said.
“We are a very young team and you look and we lost to Skyview and West,” Humphrey said. “One of our goals is to get better every day. It doesn’t show on the scoreboard, but we are getting better every day.
“We are young, but better days are ahead of us.”
West, which finished its dual season 14-12, enters the divisional on a high note with its win over Butte and a 42-28 loss to Skyview in which coach Jeremy Hernandez said he saw marked improvement from his team. The Bears won 7 of 12 matches against the Falcons.
“Our boys went out and knew they were going to give up three weight classes. They went out and battled and wrestled tougher than I ever saw them wrestle against Skyview and it paid off,” Hernandez said. “We won 7 of 12 matches against Skyview. I have never saw them wrestle with that much energy and excitement. It is hard to win a dual against the No. 2 team in the state when you give up three matches. To win 7 of 12 matches is a win for us.
“We are going into divisionals feeling great about where we are at this point in the season. The confidence is starting to snowball.”
The Sidney Eagles are ranked No. 2 in the state behind defending state champion Havre. Last year at state, Sidney was second. Hardin is currently ranked ninth.
The Eagles of 28th-season coach Guy Melby have won the Eastern A 20 times in his tenure. However, Sidney was second the last couple of seasons as Glendive and Laurel won the meet said Melby.
“The Eastern A is definitely not like it was last year. It was a dogfight and close,” Melby said. “At the state tournament, Sidney (2nd), Hardin (4th) and Glendive (5th) were all in the top five. Our division was just tough. I don’t think it is quite as tough this year. For us, it will help us out coming to the state tournament. We will have a lot higher placers coming out of our division than we did last year.”
The Eagles have top-ranked wrestlers in two-time state champ Gresh Jones (120) and Jordan Stevens (138). Trace Jones (113), Ethan Graves (126), Cody Johnson (160), Cody Christian (170) and Dace Fisher (182) are all ranked No 2.
Glendive’s Travis Kinn (98) and Dillon Tennant (132) are ranked second. Hardin’s Shawn Purcell (152) is also rated No. 2.
The tourney figures to be one of the more hotly-contested in the state. Top-ranked and three-time defending state champ Forsyth is ranked No. 1 in the latest poll. Colstrip is ranked third, Huntley Project sixth and Baker 10th. Other teams entered are Circle, Glasgow, Poplar, Broadus, Shepherd and Wolf Point.
“To be honest, it will be the toughest divisional in the state for all classes,” Project coach Tim Kaczmarek said. “It will be scrappy.
“Every weight, there are solid kids. The maximum amount of kids we can take is 18 to divisionals and we are hoping to get 18 into state. If we do that, we will be sitting in a good spot. If we can get to state like that we will surprise some people, get some good matches and score some points.”
Project closed its dual season with a 49-33 win over Forsyth Friday to improve to 13-3 in duals.
“It is a big motivation to beat the No. 1 team from Class B-C going into divisonals,” Kaczmarek said.