BILLINGS — It could be a historic weekend for Billings West wrestler Jace Rhodes.
This season, Rhodes has a 35-0 record and 20 pins. He won the Eastern AA seeding tournament at 170 pounds and enters the state tournament Friday and Saturday at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark looking to capture his third straight State AA championship.
If Rhodes were to win, he’d join his coach, Jeremy Hernandez, as the only three-time state wrestling champions at West, Hernandez said.
“As of right now, he’s better than the very first three-time state champ,” Hernandez, who graduated in 1994, said. “Jase is better than me. I know that for a fact. He is way better than I was.”
Rhodes is a three-time state placer. As a freshman, he was sixth at 138 pounds. He won the 152-pound bracket last year and 145-pound crown as a sophomore. Rhodes said his goal is a state championship, but he is not taking anything for granted.
“I’ve beat everybody in my bracket, but you know as well as anybody else anything can happen at the Metra,” Rhodes said. “I’m confident, but know anything can happen and am preparing the right way and doing what I normally do.”
Over his career, Rhodes has also became the all-time wins leader at West. He has amassed a career record of 142-34. The previous all-time leader was Jake Leinwand with 140. Leinwand graduated in 2013 with back-to-back 189-pound Class AA state titles.
“He (Rhodes) is the poster boy for West High wrestling,” Hernandez said. “He’ll leave that school as one of the best wrestlers to ever go through that school.”
Now, with the state tournament fast approaching, Rhodes has mixed emotions about his high school career ending.
“It’s going fast,” he said. “Definitely, looking back, it seems like it was long but it’s gone super fast. I’m ready for it to be over, but I’m not.
“I’m ready to move on, I guess. But, it’s fun watching my brother (Drake) as a freshman. I wish I could stay four more years with him and stay with the team and compete.”
Drake Rhodes won the Eastern AA seeding meet at 113 pounds and is 37-2 this year.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Rhodes said of wrestling on the same team as his younger brother. “He watched me wrestle in high school since sixth grade and was at pretty much every tournament. It’s fun to have him here and it makes the season go by faster.”
While he is a state champion, Rhodes is also a solid golfer, placing three times at the State AA tournament. As a senior, Rhodes tied for 14th, as a junior he tied for 10th and as a sophomore he tied for 11th. West was also the state team champion when Rhodes was a sophomore.
Rhodes said being a golfer and a wrestler is not common at the AA level.
“The cool thing for me is I’m able to play golf and wrestle and be proficient,” he said.
Ever the competitor, Rhodes said of his golf career: “There has been some disappointments in golf. I wish I could have placed higher my senior year. It’s fun to look back, especially being one of the only ones who played golf and wrestled. It’s kind of different.”
Rhodes is fairly certain he’ll be on a college wrestling or golf team, but has not decided on the sport to pursue at the next level. He hopes to make a decision when wrestling season is over.
Rhodes has been wrestling since he was “5 or 6” and golfing since he was “12 or 13.”
“That’s the thing, it’s a tough decision,” he said. “I’ve been doing both for so long. They are so different. It will be hard to pick one, but I know I’ll be happy either way.”
With a weighted cumulative grade-point average of 4.48, Rhodes does know he would like to study software engineering or computer science in college. He thoroughly enjoyed a Computer Programming I course last semester.
“I’ve always liked math,” he said. “It’s a lot of math and algorithms. You have to think through things and I like that process.”
West finished 10th at the state tournament last year. This year the Bears have made tremendous strides, with second-place finishes at both the Cowboy Invitational and Great Falls CMR Holiday Classic and a third-place effort at the Bozeman Invite.
This year, West is aiming for a top-three finish and a state trophy. The last time the Bears placed, they were third in 1995. West was the state champion in 1994.
“The top three has been the goal all year, to try and get a team trophy,” Rhodes said. “It’s been a long time since West High has done that.”
While West appears to be capable of a top-three finish this weekend, Rhodes said the Bears are focused on the present.
“We don’t like to look back. We are doing things this year we haven’t done in a long time,” Rhodes said. “There is definitely a new standard at West High in the way we practice and wrestle.”