It began as a slogan and flourished into a mantra.
“We preached it everyday,” Flathead High School wrestling head coach Jeff Thompson said.
Back on top. Back on top. Back on top.
Last weekend, inside the reverberating epicenter of the Billings MetraPark, in front of 7,000 fans and competitors from across Montana, Flathead muscled their motto into reality.
With a barrage of Braves — and even one Bravette — the Flathead wrestling team captured the Class AA state championship and reclaimed its place atop the grappling pecking order for the first time since 2010.
The team tallied 251 points, the most by any AA squad since 2014. A total of 13 wrestlers placed in the top six, including Tilynne Vasquez, a freshman who earned sixth place in the 103-pound division and became the first female in Montana history to land all-state honors in wrestling. There were no individual winners but three second-place finishers — Bryce Shaffer at 113 pounds, Trae Vasquez at 132 and Payton Hume at 152 — and four at third place — Hunter Rush at 103 pounds, Tucker Nadeau at 170, Matt Gash-Gilder at 205 and Michael Lee at 285.
“It was a total team effort. Everybody contributed,” said Thompson, who guided Flathead to its eighth overall wrestling championship in his first season back as head coach after a seven-year hiatus.
“I’m very excited to be part of something so special. I really feel like we worked hard all year and the hard work paid off.”
Glacier had an individual champ in Justin Gibson, who claimed the title in the 138-pound division.
Flathead battled through competitive matches and the weight of expectations. After placing third a year ago, the team entered the season with a powerful squad full of state contenders in every weight class. By the time the state tournament arrived, Flathead was ranked first with 22 qualifiers. After the first day of action, the squad held a slim lead over Bozeman with the championship within grasp.
Thompson said he and his assistant coaches emphasized the importance of relaxing while focusing on each individual match, one detailed moment after another.
“We could tell some of our upperclassmen were a little tight and we just tried to get them to relax and focus on what they can control,” Thompson said.
That can be easier said than done, especially in an electric atmosphere like the MetraPark during state wrestling, when thousands of fans pile into the stands to watch matches all day.
“There’s really nothing like it in the state of Montana,” Thompson said.
Thompson’s first memory of the MetraPark is from 1989, when he was a sophomore at Great Falls competing at the first state wrestling meet inside the Billings arena. That’s where he would won his first state title and years later watch Flathead win multiple team and individual trophies.
Last weekend, he was back with the Braves and back on top.
“It gives me goosebumps,” he said of being back in the MetraPark.
“It was super exciting to see this team come together and become a family. They were working, not for themselves but for their brothers and sisters. We really achieved our goal.”
Eureka Wins First Grappling Title
The Lions added another trophy to the growing case at Lincoln County High School.
Propelled by 10 all-state finishers, Eureka won its first Class B/C wrestling state championship, tallying 198 points. Colstrip was second with 164 and Ronan was third with 120.
Transitioning from the state championship football season, the Eureka wrestlers dominated on the final day of action inside the MetraPark. Garrett Graves completed an impressive 39-0 season with a 29-6 decision over Thompson Falls’ Jase Sorenson to win the 170-pound division. Cannan Smith placed second in the 152-pound division, Jonathan Schmidt was second at 138 pounds, Joe Fehr was second at 205 pounds and Kaelan Yanak took runner-up at 285 pounds.
James Detienne of Hot Springs/Plains won the 152-pound division and teammate Kane Lawson took second at 160 pounds.
Bigfork’s Matt Farrier earned third at 170 pounds.
Columbia Falls Places Second in Class A
The MatCats had nine individual all-state wrestlers and brought home a second-place Class A state trophy.
A year after earning fourth place, Columbia Falls jumped back into the top team standings at the state wrestling meet in Billings with 131 points. Havre continued its dynastic run with a fifth consecutive state title, tallying 257 points. Glendive placed third with 125 and Polson was fourth with 109.
Ben Windauer powered the MatCats with a second-place finish at 145 pounds.
Polson’s Parker Adler earned second at 138 pounds and Hunter Fritsch was second at 160 pounds.
Whitefish’s Travis Catina was second at 205 pounds.
All-Class State Wrestling Results
Feb. 10-11, MetraPark, Billings
1, Flathead, 251; 2, Bozeman, 189.5; 3, Billings Skyview, 170.5; 4, Helena, 157; 5, Helena Capital, 155; 6, Billings Senior, 125; 7, Missoula Big Sky, 124; 8, Great Falls, 113; 9, Butte, 110; 10, Missoula Sentinel, 86; 11, Billings West, 66; 12, Great Falls CMR, 60; 13, Glacier, 29; 14, Missoula Hellgate, 6.5.
Championship: Isaac Romero (Helena) 25-3 won by decision over Trevin Welzien (Missoula Big Sky/ Missoula Loyola) 26-6 (Dec 4-0)
Third: Hunter Rush (Kalispell Flathead) 22-3 won by fall over Alejandra Madrid (Billings Senior) 15-7 (Fall 1:48)
Fifth: Easton Shupe (Great Falls) 15-9 won by decision over Tilynne Vasquez (Flathead (Kalispell)) 12-7 (Dec 6-3).
Championship: Leif Schroeder (Bozeman) 24-0 won by major decision over Bryce Shaffer (Flathead (Kalispell)) 15-4 (MD 11-1)
Third: Sterling Quinn (Bozeman) 13-6 won by decision over Tyler Coddington (Helena Capital) 19-8 (Dec 5-2)
Fifth: Tyler Casey (Butte High School) 23-13 won by fall over Bridger Lamb (Billings Skyview) 15-10 (Fall 4:33).
Championship: Charlie Klepps (Billings Senior) 21-0 won by major decision over Nick Kunz (Helena Capital) 28-2 (MD 13-5)
Third: Chance McLane (Bozeman) 23-7 won by decision over Cody DeVall (Kalispell Flathead) 17-10 (Dec 4-2)
Fifth: Austin Murphy (Helena) 25-9 won by decision over Gabe Tierney (Butte) 23-16 (Dec 10-5).
Championship: Bjorn Schroeder (Bozeman) 19-0 won by decision over Brayden Schwalbe (Billings Skyview) 14-3 (Dec 7-0).
Third: Douglas Swanson (Missoula Big Sky/ Missoula Loyola) 20-8 won by decision over Reece Eckley (Missoula Sentinel) 13-11 (Dec 5-2)
Fifth: Tanner Russell (Kalispell Flathead) 19-5 won by decision over Tyler Vetter (Butte High School) 22-9 (Dec 15-11)
Championship: Jahzriel Peak (Billings Senior) 16-7 won by decision over Trae Vasquez (Kalispell Flathead) 17-1 (Dec 6-4)
Third: Devin Crawford (Helena) 24-8 won by decision over Josh Macy (Billings Skyview) 16-6 (Dec 2-1)
Fifth: Caleb James (Bozeman) 20-7 won by fall over Luke Joy (Missoula Sentinel) 4-5 (Fall 0:23).
Championship: Justin Gibson (Kalispell Glacier) 23-5 won in sudden victory – 1 over Kai Stewart (Great Falls CMR) 19-1 (SV-1 3-1)
Third: Kyle Gordon (Missoula Big Sky/Missoula Loyola) 17-4 won in sudden victory – 1 over Beau King (Missoula Sentinel) 15-10 (SV-1 8-6)
Fifth: Willie Anderson (Butte) 18-12 won by decision over Nick Manion (Bozeman) 12-13 (Dec 3-2).
Championship: Jace Rhodes (Billings West) 20-0 won by fall over Kadin Schonsberg (Butte) 27-8 (Fall 4:44)
Third: KJ Swanson (Missoula Big Sky/ Missoula Loyola) 26-2 won by decision over Kenyon Fretwell (Kalispell Flathead) 16-7 (Dec 6-4)
Fifth: Austin Carothers (Billings Skyview) 9-3 won by injury default over Travis Schulte (Helena Capital) 20-7 (Inj. 0:00).
Championship: Jordan Komac (Great Falls) 27-1 won by decision over Payton Hume (Kalispell Flathead) 22-6 (Dec 3-2)
Third: Jack Murphy (Helena Capital) 19-7 won by decision over Jett Rebish (Missoula Big Sky/ Missoula Loyola) 17-9 (Dec 5-4)
Fifth: Keegan Mulhill (Bozeman) 22-5 won by fall over Stormee Kipp (Missoula Big Sky/ Missoula Loyola) 8-5 (Fall 2:54).
Championship: Noah Manibusan (Helena) 25-2 won by decision over Brock Bushfield (Billings Skyview) 20-1 (Dec 8-6)
Third: Dalton Macy (Billings Skyview) 19-8 won by decision over Shamus Bartmess (Helena Capital) 19-12 (Dec 10-3)
Fifth: Snyder CJ (Helena Capital) 19-13 won by fall over Ryder Norris (Helena) 5-4 (Fall 2:40).
Championship: Chase Short (Great Falls) 25-1 won by decision over Jake Malchuski (Billings Skyview) 17-4 (Dec 8-4)
Third: Tucker Nadeau (Kalispell Flathead) 27-4 won by major decision over Brenner Bushfield (Billings Skyview) 12-9 (MD 11-3)
Fifth: Joel Clark (Helena) 24-12 won by fall over Colby Martin (Kalispell Flathead) 10-4 (Fall 0:37).
Championship: Hayden Schrull (Helena) 29-0 won by major decision over Brandon Cooper (Bozeman) 20-7 (MD 9-0)
Third: Finn VaughanKraska (Bozeman) 20-7 won by decision over Kory Broussard (Helena Capital) 24-13 (Dec 5-3)
Fifth: Hunter Wellcome (Kalispell Flathead) 15-9 won by forfeit over Max Sechena (Great Falls CMR) 15-7 (For.).
Championship: Bryar Newbary (Missoula Sentinel) 9-0 won by decision over Rylan Moldenhauer (Great Falls) 16-4 (Dec 7-3)
Third: Matt Gash-Gilder (Kalispell Flathead) 24-3 won by fall over Cullen Roll (Billings Senior) 14-4 (Fall 3:27)
Fifth: Seth Jensen (Helena Capital) 20-8 won by decision over Tony Walter (Great Falls CMR) 6-4 (Dec 7-0).
Championship: Jeff Queer (Butte) 28-1 won by decision over Levi Malcolm (Billings West) 13-5 (Dec 9-4)
Third: Michael Lee (Kalispell Flathead) 23-4 won by fall over Carson Shuman (Helena Capital) 14-14 (Fall 2:02)
Fifth: J.J Ellis (Billings Skyview) 14-11 won by injury default over Jarret Leinwand (Billings Senior) 13-6 (Inj. 0:00)
Havre 257.5, Columbia Falls 131, Glendive 125, Hardin 111.5, Polson 109, Frenchtown 109, Corvallis-Darby 94.5, Belgrade 90, Hamilton 90, Dillon-Twin Bridges 89.5, Sidney 81, Lewistown 73.5, Laurel 70.5, Stevensville 62, Livingston 52, Browning 39.5, Butte Central 34.5, Whitefish 33, Billings Central 23, Miles City 18.5.
Championship: Quin Reno (Havre) 35-5 won by fall over Cameron Pleninger (Havre) 29-6 (Fall 3:59)
Third: Walker Dyer (Frenchtown) 21-1 won by decision over Kedrick Baker (Polson) 12-7 (Dec 13-7)
Fifth: Braxton Scheeler (Miles City) 21-18 won by fall over Roy Russell (Butte Central) 9-6 (Fall 0:39).
Championship: Jake Bibler (Frenchtown) 21-0 won by decision over Matthew DeWitt (Laurel) 44-6 (Dec 7-6)
Third: Michael Golden (Hamilton) 22-5 won by decision over Ryan Stewart (Havre) 34-9 (Dec 3-2)
Fifth: Mateo Quinones (Polson) 13-6 won by decision over Austin Nelson (Columbia Falls) 10-6 (Dec 8-4).
Championship: John Mears (Belgrade) 38-5 won by fall over Lane Paulson (Havre) 36-13 (Fall 5:24)
Third: Keagan Campbell (Laurel) 48-9 won by decision over Dante Venema (Corvallis/Darby) 22-6 (Dec 7-0)
Fifth: Winfield West (Columbia Falls) 14-4 won by tech fall over Tanner Mannin (Lewistown) 18-25 (TF-1.5 5:00 (15-0)).
Championship: Martin Wilkie (Havre) 43-1 won by fall over Clay Fisher (Butte Central) 11-2 (Fall 2:48)
Third: Bridger Wenzel (Polson) 8-5 won by major decision over Bridger Williams (Hamilton) 24-9 (MD 14-1)
Fifth: Ayden Role (Columbia Falls) 14-5 won by decision over Sean Comstock (Billings Central) 27-13 (Dec 3-1).
Championship: Riley Gurr (Frenchtown) 18-0 won by major decision over Caleb Birdwell (Lewistown) 28-6 (MD 12-0)
Third: Connor Harris (Havre) 30-20 won by decision over Travis Kinn (Glendive) 37-10 (Dec 7-4)
Fifth: Kwin Stoddard (Dillon/Twin Bridges) 13-4 won by fall over Hunter Peterson (Columbia Falls) 12-6 (Fall 2:41).
Championship: Sawyer Degen (Belgrade) 38-0 won by decision over Parker Adler (Polson) 13-3 (Dec 4-0)
Third: Ben Stortz (Glendive) 34-11 won by decision over Jace Winter (Sidney) 42-16 (Dec 5-4)
Fifth: Cooper Hoffman (Dillon/Twin Bridges) 13-6 won by decision over Cade Livoti (Frenchtown) 17-6 (Dec 6-3).
Championship: Parker Filius (Havre) 40-0 won by fall over Ben Windauer (Columbia Falls) 15-1 (Fall 1:24)
Third: Bryce Roan (Hardin) 18-6 won by fall over Cameron Brown (Polson) 7-3 (Fall 4:52)
Fifth: Jace Johnson (Sidney) 32-19 won by decision over Brandon Held (Glendive) 33-14 (Dec 6-4).
Championship: Brent Tezak (Dillon/Twin Bridges) 13-0 won in sudden victory – 1 over Brenden Roan (Hardin) 20-7 (SV-1 6-4)
Third: Mason Dionne (Havre) 31-19 won by decision over Calvin Racine (Browning) 21-15 (Dec 5-3)
Fifth: Brandt Ackerman (Glendive) 26-19 won by fall over Avery Gurney (Sidney) 27-21 (Fall 0:26).
Championship: Dane Flammond (Havre) 38-6 won by tech fall over Hunter Fritsch (Polson) 10-1 (TF-1.5 2:31 (15-0))
Third: Tyler Clapp (Glendive) 33-8 won in sudden victory – 1 over Alex Wickens (Lewistown) 41-10 (SV-1 6-1)
Fifth: Kye McCollaum (Corvallis/Darby) 19-8 won by decision over Colton McPhee (Columbia Falls) 12-6 (Dec 9-5).
Championship: Patrick Griffin (Dillon/Twin Bridges) 15-1 won by fall over Ben Crews (Stevensville) 13-5 (Fall 3:36)
Third: Nelson Crisafulli (Glendive) 35-11 won by tech fall over Justin Zier (Hardin) 26-15 (TF-1.5 3:19 (16-0))
Fifth: Storm Kemppainen (Columbia Falls) 11-4 won by fall over Wyatt Blythe (Lewistown) 32-9 (Fall 3:28).
Championship: Manny Rivera (Hamilton) 26-6 won by decision over Shane Gibson (Livingston) 30-11 (Dec 6-4)
Third: Jerry Cassidy (Stevensville) 15-3 won by decision over Jemal Williams (Belgrade) 13-11 (Dec 4-2)
Fifth: Sawyer Thogerson (Sidney) 35-22 won by fall over Jakob Freeman (Columbia Falls) 12-5 (Fall 0:40).
Championship: Jase Stokes (Havre) 38-1 won by fall over Travis Catina (Whitefish) 26-2 (Fall 1:57)
Third: Justin Hinson (Hamilton) 20-3 won by decision over Tyler Laverty (Livingston) 36-11 (Dec 2-1)
Fifth: Will Caprata (Hardin) 25-18 won by fall over Brady Boyce (Lewistown) 35-19 (Fall 2:44).
Championship: Garret Hunt (Corvallis/Darby) 20-1 won by fall over Wacey Zuback (Browning) 13-10 (Fall 0:00)
Third: Grant Scalpcane (Hardin) 34-14 won by decision over Kyler Koski (Columbia Falls) 13-6 (Dec 3-1)
Fifth: Jared Sienkowski (Havre) 28-22 won by fall over Eli Marley (Glendive) 26-14 (Fall 0:19)
1. Eureka, 198; 2. Colstrip, 164; 3. Ronan, 120.5; 4. Huntley Project, 89; 5. Plains/Hot Springs, 86; 6. Glasgow, 79; 7. Libby/Troy, 73.5; 8. Baker, 61; 8. Malta/Whitewater, 61; 10. Conrad, 59; 11. Anaconda, 51.5; 12. Townsend, 47.5; 12. Shepherd, 47.5; 14. Fairfield/Simms, 45; 14. Forsyth, 45; 16. Thompson Falls, 44; 17. Cascade, 43; 18. St. Ignatius/Charlo, 41.5; 19. Circle, 39; 20. Whitehall, 37; 21. Choteau, 36; 22. Cut Bank, 29; 23. Wolf Point, 27; 24. Columbus/Absarokee, 21; 25. Valier, 20.5; 26. Shelby, 20; 27. Bigfork, 19; 28. Chinook, 18.5; 29. Broadus, 16; 30. Harlem, 13.5; 31. Poplar, 11; 32. Fort Benton, 9; 33. Florence-Carlton, 6; 33. Jefferson, 6; 35. Belt, 3; 36. Highwood, 0; 36. Deer Lodge, 0; 36. Alberton-Superior, 0.
Championship: Buddy Doolin (Libby/Troy) 15-0 won by major decision over Clayton Donally (Huntley Project) 36-13 (MD 11-2)
Third: Tanner Cook (Shepherd) 35-2 won by decision over Zane Walchuk (Ronan) 14-11 (Dec 8-1)
Fifth: Caden Rhine (Ronan) 18-12 won by fall over Robert Dempsey (St. Ignatius/Charlo) 21-17 (Fall 2:53).
Championship: Colin Rogers (Anaconda) 36-3 won by fall over Lincoln Stormer (Circle) 37-5 (Fall 7:45)
Third: Gabe Hallock (Glasgow) 32-16 won by decision over Kaleb Frank (Thompson Falls) 35-3 (Dec 9-6)
Fifth: Nathan Schmidt (Eureka) 34-14 won by major decision over Dillon Yeadon (Libby/Troy) 15-8 (MD 13-0).
Championship: Matt Reyling (Glasgow) 36-6 won by major decision over Josh Pepos (Cascade) 37-8 (MD 13-0)
Third: Daniel Uli (Plains/Hot Springs) 39-4 won by decision over Kahden Bakkila (Eureka) 35-5 (Dec 2-0)
Fifth: Owen Brown (Ronan) 29-6 won by decision over Kolter Schipman (Malta/Whitewater) 28-12 (Dec 6-4).
Championship: Jackson Currier (Colstrip) 48-4 won by decision over Nathan Weber (Forsyth) 45-9 (Dec 5-2)
Third: Hunter Peterson (Ronan) 37-4 won by decision over Hank Dunn (Eureka) 40-10 (Dec 7-4)
Fifth: Connor Johnson (Whitehall) 40-10 won by fall over Jack Dolan (Townsend) 33-10 (Fall 2:10).
Championship: Noah Cheff (Ronan) 28-9 won by fall over Kameron Rauser (Townsend) 35-5 (Fall 0:14)
Third: Wyatt Brusven (Shelby) 38-9 won by decision over Quinn Whitmus (Wolf Point) 32-5 (Dec 4-2)
Fifth: Kaden Moore (Malta/Whitewater) 32-11 won by forfeit over Hunter Connard (Huntley Project) 26-19 (For.).
Championship: Clayton Currier (Colstrip) 51-2 won by major decision over Jonathan Schmidt (Eureka) 31-3 (MD 13-3)
Third: Trey Simanton (Malta/Whitewater) 45-3 won by decision over Cole Giles (Fairfield/Simms) 36-10 (Dec 7-2)
Fifth: Matthew Middleton (Huntley Project) 38-17 won by major decision over Brandon Bisch (Anaconda) 38-11 (MD 16-3).
Championship: Michael Weber (Forsyth) 54-2 won by decision over Keegan Kary (Baker) 23-4 (Dec 6-1)
Third: Tate Niederegger (Chinook) 38-4 won by decision over Ty Bradley (Colstrip) 45-13 (Dec 8-3)
Fifth: Trey Taylor (Circle) 31-12 won by fall over Luke Lile (Plains/Hot Springs) 32-10 (Fall 4:23).
Championship: James Detienne (Plains/Hot Springs) 38-3 won in sudden victory – 1 over Cannan Smith (Eureka) 37-3 (SV-1 9-7)
Third: Dawson Peterman (Fairfield/Simms) 33-3 won by decision over Nakoda Siegel (Colstrip) 43-11 (Dec 7-1)
Fifth: Keaton Anderson (Cut Bank) 21-7 won by decision over Cory Kistler (Huntley Project) 49-3 (Dec 10-6).
Championship: Taner Stone (Choteau) 45-0 won by major decision over Kane Lawson (Plains/Hot Springs) 39-3 (MD 12-0)
Third: Dalton Herbst (Baker) 26-10 won by decision over Spencer Dougherty (Shepherd) 25-13 (Dec 3-1)
Fifth: Tyler Houle (Ronan) 24-9 won by major decision over Isaiah Wohlfeil (Huntley Project) 29-17 (MD 9-0).
Championship: Ben Rauscher (Conrad) 42-6 won by decision over Jase Sorenson (Thompson Falls) 29-6 (Dec 3-2)
Third: Matt Farrier (Bigfork) 21-6 won by decision over Colby Hammack (Eureka) 38-11 (Dec 3-2)
Fifth: Dylan Parrish (Libby/Troy) 8-9 won by decision over Sonny Cochran (Shepherd) 39-10 (Dec 4-0).
Championship: Garrett Graves (Eureka) 39-0 won by decision over Tony Kaiser (Glasgow) 35-10 (Dec 13-9)
Third: Gus Bosley (St. Ignatius/Charlo) 31-5 won by fall over Kai Dole (Huntley Project) 32-6 (Fall 2:03)
Fifth: Paul Wang (Baker) 38-11 won by major decision over Austyn Sherwood (Eureka) 26-9 (MD 10-2).
Championship: Blake Johnston (Colstrip) 43-5 won by decision over Joe Fehr (Eureka) 38-4 (Dec 11-5)
Third: Hunter Mycke (Conrad) 47-3 won by fall over Harley Yoder (Broadus) 36-11 (Fall 1:45)
Fifth: Dustin Stepper (Columbus/Absarokee) 23-10 won by decision over Clancy Gout (Libby/Troy) 8-8 (Dec 3-1).
Championship: Merlin Whitedirt (Colstrip) 50-3 won by fall over Kaelan Yanak (Eureka) 41-2 (Fall 4:21)
Third: Justin Pfeifer (Cut Bank) 43-1 won by decision over Glen Ferguson (Cascade) 34-10 (Dec 7-3)
Fifth: O`Shon Oldmouse (Colstrip) 33-17 won by fall over Bradley Vanderbush (Conrad) 31-16 (Fall 1:56)