BILLINGS — Sidney.
And everybody else.
That’s how the Class A picture appears based on regular-season performances.
The Eagles are the favorites to defend their state title at the All-Class Wrestling Tournament at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark this weekend.
A year ago, Sidney arrived ahead of schedule, said long-time head coach Guy Melby, ending Havre’s run of five consecutive state championships. All 17 qualified wrestlers scored points, with 11 state placers.
This season, the Eagles have lived up to their preseason billing, winning every tournament with the exception of one. Since Christmas, Sidney has won the prestigious Rotary Tournament in Bismarck, North Dakota, the Cowboy Invitational in Miles City, the Class A Duals and last week’s Eastern A Divisional, the latter in dominating fashion.
The Eagles have again qualified the maximum 17 wrestlers for this week’s state tournament. Polson has qualified 15 and Havre 14.
“Oh man, there’s a lot to like about this team,” said Melby, whose program is pursuing its 10th state team title. “They’ve paid their dues and have earned everything they’ve received.”
Sidney had five wrestlers win Eastern A titles: Kaiden Cline (113), Aden Graves (132), Christian Dean (138), Riley Watters (160) and Jett Jones (182). The Eagles finished with 349.5 points, more than a 100 better than the runner-up Blue Ponies.
Cline won the 103-pound state title last year as a sophomore.
“Sidney has definitely established its dominance this year,” said Havre head coach Beau LaSalle. “We’re going to show up and try to put some points on the board.”
The Eagles also won the Glasgow Invitational and Gillette (Wyoming) Duals during the season.
It didn’t take long for Melby to realize motivation would not be an issue for this year’s group.
“That Monday after the state tournament there were 17 guys standing outside the weight room waiting for me to open it up,” Melby said. “It wasn’t hard (to motivate) these guys. We told them, ‘Last year is gone. Create your own legacy.’
“The key for us is to finish strong. We try to keep improving every time we step on the mat, and I expect that this weekend. We’ve pushed the pedal pretty hard. We’re not going to slow down.”
Martin Wilkie of Havre will be one of three wrestlers this weekend — Jackson Currier of Colstrip and Forsyth’s Michael are the others — who are trying to put their names into the record books.
All three are pursuing four straight titles. The unbeaten Wilkie (42-0), who has committed to Minnesota, is wrestling at 145 pounds a second straight year. He also won titles at 120 and 126 during his career.
John Mears of Belgrade is inching closer to Montana wrestling history. The junior, wrestling at 152, is going for his third straight state title. He also won state titles at 120 and 132. Mears was the quick pin award winner in 2017.
Lewistown’s Cooper Birdwell is after his second state championship. Birdwell won the 113-pound title last year and is wrestling at 126 this weekend.
From the West
While Sidney was rolling in the east, things were a little tighter on the western side of the state.
Polson won the Western A Divisional team title by one slim point over Frenchtown, 221-220. The Pirates scored points in 12 of 13 weight classes, while the Broncs did the same in 10 of 13.
Bridger Wenzel (152) and Hunter Fritsch (170) won individual titles for Polson while Frenchtown’s Walker Dyer (113) and Jake Bibler (120) won championships.
Bibler (48-1) is a two-time defending state champion with previous titles at 120 and 113. Dyer is 47-0 this season at 113 pounds. He was sixth a year ago and third as a freshman in 2017.
Fritsch wasted little time at the Western A Divisional, pinning three opponents in a combined 62 seconds. He is 21-1 against Class A competition.
Wenzel had three pins in 2:17 last weekend and is 24-4 against Class A wrestlers. He lost to Mears in the 132-pound title match in 2018.