BILLINGS — On Jan. 20, the Sidney Eagles wrestling team had plenty to celebrate.
The top-ranked Eagles won the Class A Duals with a 54-15 victory over No. 3 Lewistown. In the semifinals, Sidney won 30-22 over second-ranked and five-time defending State A champion Havre. The win was the Eagles', who are a program-best 31-0 on the year after sweeping the Billings Class AA schools at the Billings Duals Saturday, second defeat of the Blue Ponies this season. Earlier in the year, the Eagles dealt Havre a 48-12 setback in Sidney.
"It came down to that last match and that last match wins it," said Guy Melby, who has coached Sidney for 32 years. "It was a great dual; very, very fun with two great programs going at it."
While the championship was sweet, another reward the Eagles earned at the two-day Class A Duals in Lewistown was the 500th dual victory of Melby's career. At the Skyview gym on Saturday, Melby confirmed his Eagles teams had won 506 career duals over the last three decades.
Melby said that as a young coach he would read wrestling magazines and occasionally there was an article with a coach who had amassed a benchmark wins total and he would wonder if he would be lucky enough to one day get there. Now, he says its about "like a blink of an eye and it's there."
In the Sidney wrestling room, boards line the walls listing the program's various accomplishments and one of the tallies marked is a year-by-year record for duals, so the team knew the accomplishment was possible this year.
"It is a milestone. It's really a tribute to all the outstanding athletes we've had through the years," Melby said of the 500-win mark. "I've had a lot of (congratulatory) phone calls and emails and I tell them they are part of it. Anybody who wrestled for Sidney is part of it."
Now the Eagles are ready to tackle the postseason. The Eastern A Divisional is set for Feb. 3 in Belgrade and on the line are individual state tournament berths. While the classification's top three teams are entered in Sidney, Havre and Lewistown, Hardin is ranked eighth and Glendive ninth.
"It's a dogfight, just the way we like it," said Melby. "I like the Super Divisional. We have 10 teams instead of six, so the tournament means something. You have to get in the top eight to get to the state tournament, so you have to wrestle."
It's true the Eagles have had a phenomenal season, but Melby said his team is aware postseason tourneys are scored differently than dual tournaments. He said his team will be ready.
"We are wrestling really well and have progressed every day and keep getting better every week," he said. "Next week we'll have five days of practice and hopefully get better every day."
Hawks on a roll
One of the hottest teams in the state is the Bozeman Hawks. The Class AA's top team, Bozeman won its second straight Class AA Duals title on Jan. 20 with a 34-29 triumph over defending state champion and second-ranked Kalispell Flathead.
"It was pretty nice to win," said Jaiden James, the Hawks' 113-pounder who is ranked second in the AA. "We weren't so happy with the score, it could have been not so close. We could have got more pins and less losses."
The weekend before the AA Duals, the Hawks walked away from the Jug Beck Rocky Mountain Classic in Missoula with the team title, outdistancing second-place Havre 238-200. Sophomore Leif Schroeder, who is ranked first at 126, said the Hawks have bonded as a team.
"It's been great. All these guys on this team are great and fun to be around and the coaches," said last year's 113-pound state titlist. "We have a good atmosphere in our program."
James concurred with Schroeder.
"I've been enjoying the season," he said. "A lot of us have had a lot of fun winning the tournaments we've been to. It's enjoyable to be around the people on the team."
Last season the Hawks beat Flathead 36-27 for the Class AA Duals title. Flathead went on to win the state title at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark with 251 points. Bozeman finished second with 189.5. Schroeder said while his team has enjoyed winning the past two tournaments, the Hawks realize the season has two weeks left. The state tournament is Feb. 9-10 at Metra.
"All this stuff feels good, but it will feel better if we can cap it with a state team title, that's the ultimate goal," he said. "Everybody is keeping their nose to the grindstone and working hard every day."
The Eastern AA seeding meet is Feb. 3 at Great Falls CMR. Five of the top six ranked teams will be competing. The Hawks are intent to have a good showing in Great Falls.
"We have to just keep working hard. We have a week's worth of practice," said Schroeder. "Wrestle hard and control what we can control and if we do that, we'll be good."