BILLINGS — For wrestlers and their passionate fans in the Treasure State, it's the most wonderful time of the year.
The 29th Annual All-Class State Wrestling Tournament is Friday and Saturday in the state's most fabled arena, Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark. The parade of athletes will be at 10 a.m. on Friday and the first-round matches begin at 10:20 a.m. Hold on to your hats as the fast-paced tournament continues throughout the day on Friday, concluding with the second-round consolation matches starting at approximately 5 p.m.
On Saturday, the national anthem is set for 9:20 a.m. and then the real fun begins with the semifinals and consolation quarterfinals at 9:30 a.m. At 3:15 p.m., it will be time for the parade of finalists to kick off the championship round.
Throughout the tournament, wrestlers will use their Metra muscles to try and win their matches and possibly need a little Metra magic along the way to reach the award stand.
Overall, 97 schools comprising 82 teams sponsor wrestling in Montana. There are 14 teams in Class AA, 22 in Class A and 46 in Class B-C. Of the wrestlers on those teams, they battled for one of 624 individual spots in the state tournament brackets in the eight seeding and divisional tournaments held last weekend.
While the wrestlers who qualified for this weekend's state tournament will be shooting to be a state placer by placing in the top six of their respective classification's weight classes, teams will be chasing state championships in Classes AA, A and B-C.
Wrestlers can expect a passionate crowd of 14,000 over the two days cheering them on.
"We are excited about it. It's that time of the year," said tournament manager and assistant director of the Montana High School Association Brian Michelotti. "We are excited to have that time in February come and excited to get back down and see the big event."
One of the many stars fans will have their eyes on is Charlie Klepps of Billings Senior, who won the 132-pound weight class at the Eastern AA seeding meet in Great Falls over the weekend. Klepps is aiming to become the 32nd Montana wrestler to win four state titles.
Fans can also expect competitive team races in classes AA, A and B-C.
Kalispell Flathead is the defending champion in Class AA and Bozeman finished second last season. Bozeman had four individual champs and five second-place finishes at the Eastern AA seeding tournament. The Braves had six individual Western AA titlists and four wrestlers who were runner-up. And, it goes without saying, other teams feel they have a shot at state hardware as well.
In Class A, Havre has won the past past five state titles. However, Sidney feels like it has what it takes to end the Blue Ponies reign with a solid regular season and Eastern A championship. At the Eastern A, the Eagles outscored Havre 328-244.5. Lewistown was third with 231. At the Western A, Frenchtown scored 246.5 points and last year's state runner-up Columbia Falls tallied 214. Polson was third with 211.5.
In the B-C, Eureka won its first state wrestling title last year, Colstrip was second, Ronan (now in Class A) third and Huntley Project fourth. Eureka cruised to the Western B-C divisional crown last weekend, Jefferson easily won the Southern B-C and Malta ran away with the Northern B-C. Glasgow, sixth at state a year ago, won this year's Eastern B-C with 180 points, Colstrip was second with 154 and Project third with 139.
Michelotti said he's followed the tournaments and coaches polls this year and he sees potential for close team races, similar to 2013 when Forsyth edged Choteau, 202-201, for the B-C championship. If that's the case this year, buckle your seat belts and get ready for a wild ride.
"It will be exciting to see the team races as we get toward the championship round," he said. "Anytime you have an exciting team race at the state tourney it adds an level of intrigue. It should be fun."
So whether you are following the action on your smartphone via the trackwrestling.com website, watching every match on the NFHS Network, or sitting at Metra cheering and watching the action live while also following on your smartphone, enjoy the show. It's what the wrestlers have waited all year for, and the show they put on won't disappoint.