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Kalispell Flathead freshman Tilynne Vasquez and her father Rich Vasquez

Kalispell Flathead freshman Tilynne Vasquez and her father Rich Vasquez take in a match at the State AA wrestling tournament at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark Saturday. Vasquez became the classification's first-ever state placer Saturday. 

Spectators at the All-Class State Wrestling Tournament at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark Saturday witnessed history.

Havre's Jase Stokes and Parker Filius, along with Colstrip's Clayton Currier and Belgrade's Sawyer Degen left the arena to standing ovations after each won their fourth state championship. 

The Blue Ponies won their fifth consecutive Class A state championship to match the Class A record set by Ronan from 1978-82. Eureka made the record books by wrestling to its first state title in the sport and Kalispell Flathead won its first team title since 2010.

Not to be forgotten is the historic feat of Flathead freshman Tilynne Vasquez, who became the first girl to place in the State AA tourney and only the second ever to achieve top-six status at a Montana High School Association state wrestling meet. In 2014, Abi Gontarek became the first girl to ever place at the Montana state wrestling tournament when competing for Laurel she claimed fifth place in the Class A 98-pound bracket.

"I can't explain how good that felt, I've been working toward it my whole life," said Vasquez shortly after placing sixth at 103 pounds. 

Vasquez started wrestling at age 6, said her proud father, Rich Vasquez, who is a club coach in Kalispell. Rich said his daughter's "ultimate goal" is to become a member of the World Team. She'll get the opportunity at a tourney in Texas in May. 

"I'm extremely proud. I couldn't be more proud of her," said Rich. "As a freshman, in general, you have nerves, but on top of that the pressure of being the first girl to place (in Class AA) gets to a young wrestler."

In her pursuit of making the World Team, Vasquez said having the opportunity to wrestle at the high school level has both polished and pushed her abilities.

"To wrestle these great guys will push me over the top and over that barrier to make the team," she said. 

Gontarek, who recently became the first women's wrestling recruit in University of Great Falls' history for an Argos team that will begin competition next season, was an assistant at Missoula Big Sky this year. She was at the state tourney and witnessed Vasquez' performance. Vasquez visited Missoula while in middle school to practice last year.

"That's awesome," said Gontarek shortly after Vasquez clinched state-placing status with a win Saturday morning. "I've got to roll around on the mat with her before. She is an incredibly good wrestler. She is tough and strong and I'm incredibly proud of her. It was incredible. I was in tears." 

Gontarek said in a sport where girls who wrestle at the high school level must compete with the boys, Vasquez has more than proven she belongs.

"It is really tough to find respect in this sport and she has earned it on and off the mats and how she presents herself," said Gontarek. 

Brian Michelotti — an assistant director with the MHSA, who has been the state tournament manager for 12 years — said six girls competed in this year's state tourney. It is a record for the number of girls qualifying for state. Two were from Class AA, one from Class A and three from the B-C.

"I've known about her during the season and heard good things about her," Michelotti said of Vasquez. "I had a chance to chat with her today and she's a nice girl and obviously a very, very good wrestler on top of it." 

Vasquez' older brother, Trae, is a two-time state champ for Flathead. The junior finished second this year. Tilynne is happy to have the opportunity to compete on the same team as her brother. She also relishes being part of a champion team.

"It was great. I love all the guys on my team. They are my brothers," she said. "I'm very happy and blessed to be a part of Flathead wrestling."

And Vasquez won't rest on past achievements next season. She said she'll take a day off Monday and be back in the gym Tuesday preparing for the USAW UWW's in May. And come next February, Vasquez is inspired to improve on her state-placing performance. 

"Placing here is great," she said. "I definitely want to place higher. Next year, I'll aim for more."

Maybe Vasquez will establish new benchmarks and become the first girl to become a two-time state placer in MHSA state wrestling history. 


Deputy Sports Editor

Sports writer for The Billings Gazette.