BILLINGS — The weekend wasn't perfect for Huntley Project, but the Red Devils wrestlers now know where they stand.
There was a big win on Friday in Fairfield when Project downed defending State B-C champion and top-ranked Eureka 36-33. The Red Devils then finished third at the Class B-C Duals, where a 42-36 loss to Jefferson in the semifinals denied Project another chance to wrestle Eureka in the championship. Eureka defeated Jefferson 48-30 for first, while the Red Devils beat Whitehall 50-22 for third.
Project coach Tim Kaczmarek said Jefferson scored a couple of wins by pin that turned out to be the difference. Against the Lions, Project won three times by forfeit and Eureka once. Competing in three duals in Fairfield on Friday, the Red Devils went 3-0. On Saturday at the Class B-C Duals in Great Falls, Project went 4-1. Overall, Kaczmarek was pleased with the weekend.
"That was a big win (over Eureka). They were missing a guy out of their lineup," said Kaczmarek. "We set our sights on Friday. Our goal was to go up and compete well against them. We fought in every match and kept it tight and it gave us a chance to pull it out at the end and we did. We got a couple big wins from our middleweights and upper weights and it worked out in our favor."
Kaczmarek said his Red Devils would have liked to have had another shot against Eureka.
"That is probably my fault, coaching wise," Kaczmarek said of the loss to Jefferson. "I don't know if my team was looking ahead. I didn't feel we prepared for that Jefferson dual. We had back-to-back duals there. We wrestled and had to turn around and wrestle again. We had some tight matches. I don't think mentally and physically we were there where we had to be in that dual."
With the success Project experienced over the weekend, the third-ranked Red Devils know they can be a title contender at the state wrestling tournament on Feb. 9-10 at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark.
"Every year your No. 1 goal is to be battling for a state championship," Kaczmarek said. "We have the guys to do it. We obviously will need help from around the state and some guys pulling through and beating other guys. We are in trophy contention, what trophy it is depends on how we show up and perform. I feel we are right where we need to be. The guys are working hard and have had a good two weeks. We were in the top five at Miles City at the Cowboy, which is the best we've done since I've been here."
Project has two state-placers back in Clayton Donally (2nd at 103 last year) and Matthew Middleton (fifth at 138 last year). This season, Donally is ranked second at 103 and the sophomore is 38-7 with 16 pins. Middleton is 34-10 with 16 falls at 152, where he is ranked second.
At 205, senior Blaine Buchanan is ranked No. 1 and he carries a 34-0 record with 21 pins. Ashton Christman (126) is 28-15 with 16 falls. At 160, Henry Koch is 32-17 with 17 pins. Sam Schmidt is ranked fifth at 145 with a 34-11 record and 23 falls. Wyatt Selman (182) is also ranked fifth and sports a record of 21-5 with 11 pins.
Buchanan wrestled for Huntley Project's youth teams until eighth grade when his family moved to Oklahoma, where he was third at the state tournament as a sophomore. The Buchanan family moved back to the Project area for this school year. Buchanan also is a rodeo steer wrestler.
"It has been awesome," Kaczmarek said of having the 205-pounder on the team. "Even when he left, he was a leader of the junior high and AAU program. He came back and he's a big kid and loves to work hard. He steps up and helps lead and helps get people where they need to be. It's been awesome having him back. He's big into rodeo, too. He has had some rodeo scholarship offers, but now he is thinking he might want to try college wrestling. It would be awesome. He likes to work hard and still has a lot of getting better left in him and is willing to put the work in. If he went to college and wrestled, he'd be an asset to whatever team he decided to go wrestle for."
Shepherd wrestlers place 3rd at Harlem
The Shepherd Mustangs placed third at the Harlem Invitational over the weekend with Glasgow claiming the title with 174 points. Malta was second with 133 and Shepherd tallied 98 points. Winning titles for the Mustangs were Tanner Cook (113), Kameron Powell (160) and Gustav Wenz (182).
Through Thursday, Cook had a record of 37-1 and the sophomore was top-ranked. Cook finished third at state last year at 103 pounds. Reese Osborne, of Sheridan, Wyo., defeated Cook in the championship match at the Cowboy by major decision.
"He's good. He's a tough kid," said first-year Shepherd coach Don Jenkins, who previously coached at Big Sandy. "We kind of got an eye opener last weekend in Miles City. We came out a little flat. The kid caught us and got ahead. We just couldn't catch him. It was an eye opener and made him (Cook) realize he has to work harder in the practice room. It's a good thing for this time of the year."
With statistics through Thursday, Powell was 31-9 and Wenz 16-7. Sonny Cochran (170) and Nate Gorham (160) both were second at Harlem. Cochran is ranked sixth at 170 with a 21-6 mark, while Gorham is 25-8.
Jenkins was a farmer in the Big Sandy area before moving to Billings in 2015 and starting to work for Coca-Cola as a trainer. He coached at Castle Rock Middle School last season and heard about the opening at Shepherd through his daughter, Mackenzie Jenkins, who is the volleyball coach at North Star. He said the biggest challenge so far has been terminology.
"The kids have been great. The parents have been great," Jenkins said. "The biggest thing we have going on is terminology, what our terminology is. What I call moves and what they've heard moves called in the past. We are better now. After Christmas break, we have climbed the hill and are starting to see more success. We had good success before Christmas, but are seeing more now."
At this point is the season, the team is working on cleaning up mistakes.
"Just fundamentally we will tidy things up and be more precise in our moves and to get a little more aggression going," Jenkins said, noting his assistant coach is former Shepherd two-time state champ Tyler Gilfeather. "Our biggest thing right now is just trying to tidy it up. We have good kids and wrestlers. We just have to be more aggressive and precise."