The 71-day endurance race to the state wrestling tournament begins this afternoon with the annual Billings Invitational at Billings Senior.
The teams entered include the three Billings public schools varsity and JV outfits, Billings Central, Bozeman, Buffalo (Wyo.), Huntley Project, Great Falls CMR, Conrad, Great Falls, Hardin, Laurel, Shepherd, Columbus-Absarokee, Sheridan, Wyo., and Gillette, Wyo.
Skyview is the defending champion. Gillette, which has won the past seven Wyoming 4A state team championships, won the meet in 2006 and 2007.
“At this first tournament you get to test yourself against some good teams,” Laurel coach Ted Hill said. “You just kind of gauge where you are at and see what we need to fix and get better at to improve on the season. You just get ready for the state tourney. You try to peak for that. Everything else is just building on that.”
One of the top wrestlers at the tourney will be Billings Senior 125-pounder Tanner Sprenkle. The junior is a two-time state champion.
“He’s obviously one of the best wrestlers in the state of Montana by far,” West coach Jeremy Hernandez said of the Bronc standout. “He’s just a go-getter, he never stops. He can be down and he keeps on coming. He’s just tough.”
As far as the statewide Class AA race is concerned, there seems to be more parity this season. Kalispell Flathead has won the last four state titles and five of the last six.
The Braves have 42 kids out, including seven state placers and one state champion in senior Shawn Lau, who won at 130 last year.
Flathead has also been bolstered by the addition of two transfers from Kalispell Glacier. The first is sophomore Larry Francis, who was second last year at 152. Sophomore Josh Erickson was a state qualifier at 160 last year for Glacier and is also now at Flathead.
“I definitely think it will be a little more even-matched, but we will be set up again to make another run at it. We have a lot of great kids coming back,” Flathead second-year coach Matt Owen said.
“They are doing a fantastic job and working extremely hard. A lot of the ones on the verge of being placers last year are going to make the transition this year.”
Skyview coach Rich Malia said quite a few teams could give Flathead a run.
“Flathead returns a great team. I think Glacier will be tough. They have a great sophomore class,” he said. “Sentinel will be a better team than people think and Senior High should be decent. They return a great team.”
Coach: Lonnie Robertson, 13th season
State tournament finish: 5th place
Returning state placers: Tanner Sprenkle, 1st at 125; C.J. Ness, 4th at 98; Cree Minkoff, 5th at 105; Ben Sulser, 5th at 140; Cody Hert, 4th at 171; Greg Wyatt, 4th at 152.
Projected opening day lineup: 98, Shylo Rambin, freshman; 105, Cree Minkoff, sophomore; 112, C.J. Ness, sophomore; 119, Sam Anderson, junior; 125, Tanner Sprenkle, junior; 130, Luke Paine, freshman; 135, Aaron Chavez, freshman; 140, Preston Kline, senior; 145, Ben Sulser, sophomore; 152, Jon Hagstrom, sophomore; 160, Greg Wyatt, senior; 171, Wade Willis, sophomore/Ronnie Bray, junior; 189, Cody Hert, senior; 215, Treavan Sparboe, sophomore; Hwt., Kasey Smith, senior.
Noteworthy: There are 46 wrestlers out this season for the Broncs, including eight seniors. … Sprenkle was the state 119-pound champion as a freshman.
Coach Robertson says: “We are just hoping to improve every week and if we do that we will meet our goals and expectations for the season.”
Coach: Rich Malia, 6th season
State tournament finish: 2nd place
Returning state placers: Nik Hinebauch, 2nd at 98; Clay Cathey, 1st at 105; Brock Miller, 4th at 105; Sam Shelton, 2nd at 112; Mike Nguyen, 4th at 119; Carson Hilliard, 6th at 189.
Projected opening day lineup: 98, Justin Waterson, freshman; 105, Nik Hinebauch, senior; 112, Brock Miller, sophomore/Eric Ibarra, sophomore; 119, Clay Cathey, sophomore; 125, Preston Bonine, senior/Tate Morgan, sophomore; 130, Josh Christoferson, junior; 135, Sam Shelton, sophomore; 140, Shelby Knutson, senior; 145, Ty West, junior; 152, Dillon Dean, senior; 160, Deryk Mann, junior; 171, Dylan Miller, senior/Sean Peters, sophomore; 189, Carson Hilliard, senior/Ryan Guelff, junior; 215, Jacob Berry, junior; Hwt., Sam Holt, senior.
Noteworthy: Skyview has 55 kids out, including nine seniors. … The Falcons graduated 18 seniors, nine of which were state placers and six were in the finals. … Nguyen (140) is out at the start of the season due to surgery. … Berry is returning from an ACL injury suffered at the state wrestling tourney last year. He did not play football this season. … Ibarra is a transfer from Bozeman, where he qualified for the state tourney at 98 pounds last year. … Bonine is a transfer from Colorado. … Other than head coach Rich Malia, the Falcons have a whole new staff this season in Ty Malia (a two-time AA champion and Nebraska and Iowa State wrestler), Beau Malia (a four-time AA champion and Oregon wrestler) and Nick Holt (a former individual and team champion at Havre who wrestled for North Idaho College).
Coach Malia says: “We have a brand new team, brand new coaching staff and brand new mats,” Malia said. “It’s hard to assess how we’ll be even though we have seniors in our lineup. We are a different team than last year. The kids are working hard and wrestled quite a bit over the summer and are ready to go.”
Coach: Jeremy Hernandez, 2nd season
State tournament finish: 12th place
Returning state placers: Nick Richardson, 6th at 105; Daniel Temme, 6th at 112; Zane Seader, 4th at 140 for Shepherd in Class B-C.
Projected opening day lineup: 98, Steve Ferestad, sophomore/Nate Richardson, freshman; 105, Open; 112, Daniel Temme, sophomore; 119, Ty Girard, junior; 125, Nick Richardson, senior/Zack Harris, freshman; 130, Tony Scheffelman, senior/Ryan Lafko, sophomore; 135, Dan Gordon, junior/Kraig Zeigler, junior; 140, Lane Penrod, junior/Jake Hanson, sophomore; 145, Zane Seader, senior/Mike Baker, senior; 152, Konner Murray, junior/Jason Baker, freshman; 160, David Kersten, junior; 171, Jake Leinwand, freshman/Aaron Mills, senior; 189, Kris Robuck, sophomore; 215, Open; Hwt., Josh McPherson, senior/Gage McCann, sophomore.
Noteworthy: West has 47 wrestlers out this season. The Bears ended last year with 29. There are 20 freshman out, 12 sophomores, six juniors and nine seniors. … Nick Richardson was fifth at 98 pounds as a sophomore. … Temme was the first freshman wrestler to place for Billings West in eight years said Hernandez. … Seader is a transfer from Shepherd. Hernandez was an assistant coach at Shepherd during Seader’s sophomore year. … Nate and Nick Richardson are brothers as are Mike and Jason Baker.
Coach Hernandez says: “My kids have been busting their tails and preparing themselves physically and mentally for this tournament. We are ready to go and hopefully we will turn some heads this weekend. I am excited for it. Everybody is.”
Coach: Brand Aldrich, 2nd season
State tournament finish: T18th place
Returning state placer: Tucker White, 6th at 119.
Projected opening day lineup: 98, Tory Huppert, freshman; 105, Ty Arellano, sophomore; 112, Open; 119, Open, 125, Tucker White, junior; 130, Kegan Roll, freshman; 135, George Smith, freshman; 140, Alec McQueen, sophomore; 145, Christian Savoie, sophomore; 152, Quinn Huppert, junior/Ralph Studer, junior; 160, Forrest Mowyer, freshman; 171, Tad Logan-Maxon, senior; 189, Matt Getchell, junior/Max Tolstedt, junior; 215, Stephen Roe, junior; Hwt., Charlie Schmitz, junior/Cody Rummel, senior.
Noteworthy: 34 are out for wrestling at the school. It is believed to be the most ever out in the history of Billings Central wrestling. Of the 34, 16 are freshman. There are only two seniors on the team. … A lot of the wrestlers won’t be at the season-opening Billings Invite because many are football players, and the Rams advanced to the state title game. As a result, Aldrich said some of them are just getting into wrestling shape.
Coach Aldrich says: “We are just very young and building towards divisionals. We understand you have to peak at the right time in this sport and we will take our time building our freshman class up. … Excited is not the word (on the number of wrestlers out). We have to order everything. We don’t have enough headgear, uniforms or singlets. It’s a pretty good problem to have. We have some All-State football-type kids coming out ready to give it a try.”
Coach: Ted Hill, 5th season
State tournament finish: 12th place
Returning state placers: Kolter Kukes, 2nd at 98; Tommy Cooper, 6th at 125; Dylan Kramer, 4th at 135; Jess Padden, 5th at 189.
Projected opening day lineup: 98, Karson Kukes, freshman; 105, Jon Verlanic, freshman; 112, Kolter Kukes, sophomore; 119, Jake Worden, freshman; 125, Ryan Salacinski, junior; 130, Zach Hull, junior; 135, Austin Cannon, sophomore; 140, Tommy Cooper, sophomore; 145, Dylan Kramer, sophomore; 152, Cole Perrigo, senior; 160, Jeff Marstaeller, senior/Ryan Gosselin, sophomore; 171, Ethan Albrecht, junior/Jon Hill, senior; 189, Jess Padden, junior; 215, Austin Boucher, sophomore/Trevor Howe, sophomore; Hwt., Cody Stone-Murphy, freshman.
Noteworthy: 25 wrestlers are out for Laurel, with 18 returning. … Tom Cooper, a local AAU coach, is a new assistant coach this year. … Junior Ethan Albrecht, who was a state qualifier as a freshman and didn’t wrestle as a sophomore, is back for Laurel at a strong 171. … Senior Cole Perrigo (152) did quite a bit of summer wrestling and is looking tough and expected to provide senior leadership. … In Hill’s previous four years at the helm, the Locomotives have never entered a season with as many as four returning state placers. … Laurel placed five at the state tourney last year and Hill believes the Locomotives could be a top five team this year.
Coach Hill says: “It is our year to make a move, more or less. It will be an exciting year for sure. As a team we will have more success than we have in the past and individually we will have more success than we have in the past. I am kind of looking for big things out of this crew. A lot of them are younger, but they kind of have the experience and have experienced some success early on. Now we are looking to build on that.”