Flathead wrestler Rieke has been grounded too long

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  • Flathead’s Garett Rieke warms up before practice at Flathead High School on Wednesday, Feb. 12. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Flathead’s Garett Rieke, top, works with teammate Paxton Boyce during practice at Flathead High School on Wednesday, Feb. 12. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

  • Flathead’s Garett Rieke warms up before practice at Flathead High School on Wednesday, Feb. 12. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    Flathead’s Garett Rieke, top, works with teammate Paxton Boyce during practice at Flathead High School on Wednesday, Feb. 12. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

A senior with the goal of being a commercial pilot, Flathead’s Garett Rieke has his feet on the ground when it comes to athletics.

He doesn’t have much choice. Injuries short-circuited his goal of wrestling in college – at least to this point – but flight school remains a reality. And he’s all too familiar with reality.

First, there was his junior year in football.

“I think it was the eighth game,” Rieke said. “We were playing Missoula Hellgate at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.”

The Braves had come up with an interception, but during the ensuing return, the football was jarred loose.

“I saw the ball rolling past me,” Rieke said. “And I turned to chase it and somebody hit me at the same time. I heard a loud pop. It was a lot of pain.”

It was a torn ACL. Boom. Done for the rest of the football campaign and the wrestling season to follow.

“That was hard to come to grips with,” he said. “Because I hadn’t missed wrestling season since I was five.”

So Rieke could only watch as Flathead’s run of five straight State AA wrestling titles ended last February. But he knew with hard work he’d be ready for the gridiron and mat in 2019-20.

Then came the first football game last fall, when Rieke lined up to contest a point after touchdown kick. He was maybe 20 snaps into his senior season.

“I came off one edge and a teammate came off the other and we both dove,” he said. “His helmet hit me in the shin and it broke my tibia. I thought I had a big dead leg or a monkey bump. But it got bigger and bigger as the night went on.”

It was not a morale boost. Jeff Thompson, Flathead’s veteran wrestling coach, remembers running to the sideline when Rieke went down.

“I lost sleep,” Thompson said. “The first time he tore his knee at football, none of us could sleep that night. He’s just a leader, and he leads by example. You lose a guy like that it hurts.

“And then to have him to get hurt again the very first game… My heart was pounding; my phone was buzzing. That’s two football seasons where he was probably an all-state guy.”

Rieke was in a cast nearly the entire football season, then a brace, and then – just after Christmas – he was cleared. Now he’s wrestling again for the Brave Brawlers, who hope to get back to the top of a balanced AA field at the state wrestling meet in Billings this weekend.

His first meet in over two years was the Pacific Northwest Classic in Spokane, where he took second at 182 pounds.

“It was a nice comeback,” he said. “It was different than I thought. It was kind of hard to get back in the swing of things, you know?”

Now he has a 9-4 record in his abbreviated senior season after taking third at 170 at the Western AA seeding meet. The weight class is crowded with teammate Tanner Russell and Missoula Big Sky standout Bridger Hall.

He’s wrestled Russell plenty in practice but never in a meet. It could happen, and Rieke figures he’ll be at full strength: The leg bothers him occasionally in practice, but never in competition.

“He’s a beast, man,” Thompson said. “Garett is tough. He goes 100 percent, 100 percent of the time every day in practice. He’s a guy who never complains, and he’s kind of an assassin. You never know when he’s going to attack. He’s humble, but at any time he’s going to fire.”

Rieke had a goal of going to the Air Force Academy, which lines up with his family background. His dad, Rhett, is a commercial pilot for Southwest; his grandfather sold Piper airplanes; his great grandmother might have been the first female pilot in the Pacific Northwest.

“Plans change,” he said Tuesday, but he still has a great deal going for him, with a grade point average he’s kept above 3.5 (4.0 last quarter) and a spot in Flathead’s student government. He has lofty goals, including this weekend.

“I’m reaching for a state championship,” he said. “But it’d be even better to get a team championship on top of that.”

He’s been grounded, but now he’s back. It might just be time for him to fly.the

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