Flathead pushed 19 wrestlers through to the State AA wrestling tournament Friday and Saturday at the Billings Metra, which is solid.
The trouble is Butte also moved 19 over, and Great Falls qualified 20.
“Great Falls High is the front-runner; you’ve heard me say that,” Flathead coach Jeff Thompson said. “And Billings Senior just has a lot of tough wrestlers, and (defending champion) Bozeman got some of their hot rods back.
“There’s probably five teams that can win it. That said, we’re just going to go enjoy it. It’s going to be a really, really tight race.”
Thompson placed a premium on getting top-three finishes at the Western AA seeding tournament and Flathead had 11 of those. That left him very pleased with Cade Gardner (113 pounds) and Chase Youso (160), among others.
“Those are big points at state,” Thompson said. “We had a lot of tight matchups in the third-fourth matches that we won, and that just sets up really well for the state brackets.”
Glacier, who qualified 14 wrestlers, by comparison had three top-three finishes, with heavyweight Camryn Vergeront taking third and Josh Melton (103) and Teegan Vasquez (113) taking first. Both those grapplers could be at the top of the podium Saturday.
So could Flathead standouts like Cade Troupe (126), Brendan Barnes (138) and Fin Nadeau (145). Then there’s Tanner Russell, who lost a 4-2 decision at 170 to Missoula Big Sky’s Bridger Hall last week. Hall is 6-1 against Russell.
“They have similar styles,” Thompson said. “And right now, Hall just seems to have the upper hand. But you never know what can happen. We just have to stay positive and focus on things we can control – like getting Tanner ready to go.”
Thompson thinks the team race will be as even as he’s seen as a competitor or coach – and he won his first of three individual titles as a Great Falls Bison in 1989, when this tournament first moved to the Metra.
“Crazy things happen at state,” he allowed. “You can’t read into it too much, but it’s probably as wide-open meet as I’ve seen, and that’s what makes it awesome.”
It appears Frenchtown and Browning are the best chances for the Western A to take home trophies from the state meet this weekend, but Polson did qualify 13 wrestlers.
Libby’s Trey Thompson is a riding a divisional crown at 152 pounds to state; he was fifth at 145 a year ago.
Frenchtown is taking seven divisional champs into the Metra, though it may not be enough to catch defending champion Sidney.
Eureka didn’t win its Western B/C Divisional but had quite a few champions – Gunnar Smith (126), Kyle Durden (132), Nathan Schmidt (138) and Hank Dunn (152). Those could mean big points at the State B/C meet.
Smith was state champion at 120 last year and at 113 in 2018; Schmidt was second at 132 last year, when the Lions finished fifth at state – the best among the Western B-C teams, and far back two-time defending team champion Colstrip. Eureka won the 2017 B/C state title.
Mission/Charlo won the divisional and saw Isaac DuMontier (145), Isaiah Allik (170) and Miles Anderson (205) all take titles.