In the field of competitors at the Eastern A Divisional wrestling meet at Laurel Saturday, there were a grand total of three returning state champions.

Two of them are a pair of Melby’s Maulers: Josh Prevost and Phillip Williams are from Sidney, which has won four state titles in coach Guy Melby’s 16-season tenure. The Eagles may be hard-pressed to win a fifth this season – they finished tied for second at divisionals with Colstrip at 186-1/2 points, while Laurel won the balanced division with 187-1/2.

Still, with Prevost and Williams, Sidney has a pair to draw to.

Both of them are seniors, and are bent on winning a second individual title this weekend at the All-Class state wrestling meet at Metra. And – well, that’s about the extent of the similarities.

Prevost is blonde, outgoing, and poised to join his brother, 1999 Sidney graduate Levi Prevost, as a repeat champion. Williams has sandy hair, a quiet personality, and although his dad Perry got him hooked on the sport at age seven, his lone brother Vann doesn’t wrestle.

Prevost is a walking hospital ward, having had his left anterior cruciate (knee) ligament reconstructed last April, and the other one operated on the year before. Still, he’s 39-1 this season, wrestling at 160 pounds. “It was supposed to take me out until January,” said the senior, who tied Stanford wrestler Ryan Hagen’s single-season school record with his 33rd pin in Saturday night’s finals. “But I just decided to get going.”

By comparison Williams, who at 112 competes 38 pounds and eight weight classes below Prevost, has had a crunch-free career. OK, except for the tape covering the bridge of his nose. “Scraped it in practice,” he said. “Rips open every day.”

And while Prevost won his title last year, edging Havre’s Aaron Jensen 3-2 in the 152-pound finals, Williams’ crown came two seasons ago, with an 11-0 major decision over Libby’s J.R. Rebo at 98 pounds that helped Sidney win its fourth team championship.

Last year Rebo turned the table on Williams, scoring a 10-5 decision in the 105-pound final.

Now both are at 112. If things go as planned, they’ll meet again and break their 1-1 tie in the championship match this Saturday night at the Metra.

Williams would prefer seeing Rebo sometime during the regular season. Still, he knows a little about the Libby standout. “He’s tall, (and) he has a pretty good shoot,” said Williams, who is 29-6, with five losses at 119 pounds (he’s 10-1 at 112). “He wrestles well off the bottom.

“I like being on the mat,” Williams added. “I’ve developed a decent takedown this year, but I like to wrestle on the mat.”

Prevost may know less about his finals opponent, which until a couple weeks ago looked like it would be Havre’s K.P. Fisher, a senior who handed the Sidney grappler his only loss, 8-6 in overtime at the Mining City Duals. The second time they faced, Prevost caught Fisher trying to make a throw, and scored a third-period pin.

Now Fisher’s gone down to 152 (Hardin’s Chase Fisher, the third state champion in the Eastern A, dropped to 145). Havre’s 171-pound Garrett Hanson didn’t drop as expected, and the title-defending Blue Ponies’ 160-pounder didn’t advance to state. The Central A champion is Dillon’s Calvin Peterson, while the Western A champ is Corvallis’ Mike Gates. Prevost has apparently faced neither before.

Melby feels Prevost’s skill can overcome any blind draws.

“He’s a mixture of everything – a brawler, and a very good technician,” the coach said of Prevost. “And he’s a very, very hard worker. You’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who works as hard as he does.”

Then Melby added, “And ‘Philly’ is the same way.”

Wrestling is by nature a grueling sport, but Sidney manages to have a few extreme cases. Prevost and Williams are two. Another would be 152-pound sophomore Darcy Verhasselt, who gave Melby a bad start when he showed up for the team bus Thursday with a bad ankle sprain.

The team was to leave before lunch, and in that time Verhasselt managed to buckle a leg playing, gulp, basketball. “(Melby) just kind of shook his head,” said Prevost. “We had to go to two classes before we left, and he managed to sprain an ankle.”

“Earlier this year, he slipped on the ice and hit his elbow on a curb,” Williams added. “So he’s a klutz.”

Still, Verhasselt – bolstered by heavy tape and some pain-killers – got on the mat. “He wrestled a helluva match in the semifinals,” said Prevost. Verhasselt ended up pinning Glendive’s Nate Farber.

“He could hardly walk,” said Melby, who had Verhasselt default in the finals to give the ankle more chance at healing before state begins at 10 a.m. Friday. “It was a gut-check. He pinned the kid with one second left.

“That’s what a team player is all about. We’ve got a lot of guys dinged up and hurt, and wrestling when they probably shouldn’t have been. And we ended up a point from the divisional championship.”

Sidney, ranked seventh in the latest coaches poll, got 12 wrestlers into state. Prevost, who is set to join Levi at the University of Wyoming (Levi is on the wrestling team; Josh has yet to earn a spot), feels the Eagles will have to be reckoned with.

“I think if we can get our middle weights to come back and wrestle as tough as they have been, we can possibly get a trophy,” he said.

Or maybe if a couple more Eagles get hurt, they’ll move up.Fritz Neighbor is a Gazette sports writer. He can be reached at 657-1396 or fritz@billingsgazette.com

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