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This time numbers still add up

by FRITZ NEIGHBOR
Daily Inter Lake | February 15, 2023 11:55 PM

For the record, this year’s scoring change for State AA boys did not affect the top of the team wrestling standings.

Counting just the top 13 point-getters, Billings West beat two-time defending champion Flathead by 9.5 points for the Golden Bears’ first state title since 1994 Saturday.

Under last year’s ‘every match counts” rules? Billings West wins by 10.5 points.

This is according to Flathead head wrestling coach Jeff Thompson, who reiterates: “It just wasn’t our day.”

You may not like the rule change — I’m not a fan — but it was certainly a good day either way for West, which in 1994 had a wrestler named Jeremy Hernandez win his third straight state title. Hernandez has been the Bears’ coach the last 15 seasons; Keyan Hernandez, his son, won his third straight state title Saturday.

The Bears were a formidable opponent.

Also formidable? Columbia Falls, which is having quite the Wildcat strike: Football playoffs, State A soccer title, first Northwest A basketball crown since 2015 and now its first wrestling title since 1990, all in one school year.

No less so would be Flathead’s Brave Brawlers, who had 14 wrestlers place in the top six at state, though only 13 counted. And while it’s true that it didn’t affect anything this season, if you apply the same formula to last year’s team race, Flathead’s 289-270 bulge over runner-up Billings Senior shrinks to 238-237.

This seems instructive.

Thompson has noted he was the only AA coach to vote against the measure when it came up last spring. Brian Michelotti, now the executive director of the Montana High School Association, indicated that the vote by administrators was just as lopsided.

Given these numbers, the executive board approved the scoring change.

It makes wrestling markedly different from track and field and swimming: In those sports, if you score it counts.

But the MHSA didn’t start allowing two state qualifiers per weight class until 1994-95. In fact Michelotti, a Butte native, remembers when his hometown Bulldogs had a three-time state placer named Randy Walund who, as a senior, could not crack the lineup that legendary coach Jim Street took to state.

This was in the midst of Butte’s 11-year run of state titles. Now we’ve moved back toward that time.

Things change. The top-13 proposal has come up before, and Michelotti said it was just 3-4 years ago that Class B/C started allowing more than 13 wrestlers to get points at State.

Wyoming allows just one point-getter per team in each of its 14 weight classes, which Michelotti notes is the most common approach.

Billings West did all their damage this past weekend with 11 wrestlers. Flathead had more placers and placed higher in eight classes, but Logan Stansberry’s points at 145 pounds couldn’t help his team.

Meanwhile the Bears’ good guys were really good, as in racking up 35 pins on the weekend to 24 for Flathead. That 22-point gap was too much to make up.

The Brawlers have now bracketed two state titles with runner-up finishes. They haven’t lost a dual in three seasons, including a 53-18 verdict over West in the finals of the Mining City Duals in December.

The Brawlers, owners of nine AA titles since 2008, are still formidable. We may not like it, but they might have to be a little more so.

Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 406-758-4463 or fneighbor@dailyinterlake.com

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