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Tyller Cortez was getting to know the layout of his new school Friday at the AAU Western Grand Nationals Wrestling Championships at Alterowitz Gymnasium on the campus of Montana State Billings.

Cortez just graduated from Billings Senior, where he wrestled at 152 pounds for the Broncs last year. In the fall, he’ll be enrolled at MSUB where he’ll be studying sports medicine with the goal of being a physical trainer.

While he wasn’t competing at Grand Nationals, Cortez was coaching for the Darkhorse Wrestling Club.

“It’s a lot better seeing a lot of new faces from out-of-state instead of the same ones over and over,” Cortez said of the widespread competition. “It’s good for the kids to get that experience.”

Cortez is a member of Team Montana that will be traveling to Germany for a cultrual-exchange trip July 23-Aug. 11. And although he didn’t wrestle at Grands, the tournament helped him prepare as he worked out at a Grand Nationals camp held prior to the event at Billings West. The camp featured instruction in freestyle and Greco-Roman, both of which are contested at Grands and are the two disciplines recognized in Germany.

Both Cortez and Team Montana teammate Jake Malchuski, who will be a sophomore at Skyview next year, are counting down the days until they depart Billings.

“Oh yeah, I am really excited,” Malchuski said. “We will see a lot of sights. We will go to the original Mercedes-Benz plant and a concentration camp.”

“I will be the most excited to go to the castles,” Cortez said. “We will be staying the night at a 400-year-old castle. That will be cool.”

On Friday, Malchuski and Cortez were selling raffle tickets for a drawing to be held later in the day to help defray costs of the trip.

Wrestlers have been busy helping raise funds. Chris Malchuski has two sons going on the trip in Jake and her oldest boy Joe Malchuski of Skyview. Chris’ husband, Joe Malchuski, will be one of the coaches. Cortez’ dad, Corey, will also be a coach in Germany.

Cortez’ mom, Amanda, and Chris Malchuski have been busy organizing the raffle and a car wash. Another car wash is planned soon for the Heights and a garage sale.

Jake Malchuski has been busy doing work as a Rent-A-Wrestler to help raise funds to go to Germany and other camps. He said Skyview wrestlers do various jobs, including landscaping, painting and helping people move. A minimum of two wrestlers need to be hired for two hours each at $10 an hour.

“I’ve been doing a lot,” he said. “I had one the other day for four hours helping people move.”

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Two prep wrestlers from the Huntley Project Wrestling Club did well over the first two days. Hunter Connard (145/152, cadet) was third in freestyle and fifth in folkstyle. His teammate, Sam Schmidt (125, schoolboy), finished fourth in freestyle and third in folkstyle.

The Project high school wrestlers will not compete in Saturday’s Greco-Roman action as they will be helping out at the Pay It Forward barrel racing event at the Billings Saddle Club Saturday.

Connard and Schmidt will be joined by four teammates July 27-Aug. 9 at the J Robinson 14-day intensive camp in Ashland, Ore. The other four Red Devils traveling to the camp are Kai Dole, Cory Kistler, Blake Jessen and Rick Taylor.

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Count Tom Fretwell of Brandon, Fla., as one of the many fans who has been enjoying Grand Nationals. Fretwell was in the Magic City with his son, seven-year-old Christian Fretwell, who competed as a 50-pound bantam.

Fretwell recalled his son’s thrilling victory on Thursday.

“There is great competition. We got some really good wrestlers,” he said. “Christian took first yesterday, but had close matches. One match he won 15-14 and the match was back-and-forth and could have went either way. The kid (Keyan Hernandez of Billings) is a Montana state champion and he’s really good.”

The Fretwells flew into Bozeman and drove to Billings and Tom enjoyed the scenic beauty over the 142-mile trip, saying, “I loved the drive.”

Tom said Christian will come back to Billings next year to compete at Grand Nationals.

“We are having a good time,” he said. “It’s beautiful out here and the people are real nice and we like the weather and are enjoying ourselves a lot.”

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Tournament co-director Bryan Emborg said the tourney will be back at MSUB next year, although the calendar date may change. Emborg added the tourney would not be possible without the help of volunteers and support of local businesses.

“It’s going well. We’ve had really good competition,” Emborg said. “There’s not a ton of kids, but the kids here are very competitive.

“The competition is phenomenal. We just have to get more wrestlers. A lot of coaches and wrestlers are pleased with the competition.”

Grand Nationals will continue Saturday at noon with Greco-Roman action slated. It will cap three days of grappling.

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Deputy Sports Editor

Sports writer for The Billings Gazette.