Flathead Wrestlers Join Elite Company

By Beacon Staff

Flathead High School won its first state wrestling championship in 1973. Then it didn’t win again for 31 years, finally claiming the Class AA title in 2004. It’s been pretty much all Flathead since then.

On Feb. 13 at the MetraPark in Billings, the Braves won their fifth straight Class AA wrestling tournament and sixth in the past seven years. Billings Skyview took the title in 2005 and has finished second to Flathead the past two years.

The Braves edged Skyview this year by 15 points, scoring 274 points compared to Skyview’s 259. The Braves had four finalists and two state champions. Senior Shawn Lau (140) tied Burke Tyree’s school record with his third career state title. Lau placed second his sophomore year.

Caleb Allen-Schmid won the 160-pound title for the Braves, while Caleb Piasecki (160) and Joaquin Calderon (130) finished second. Flathead also had eight wrestlers who finished third or fourth, including heavyweight favorite and top-ranked Connor Thomas. Thomas lost to Glacier High School’s Dan Gilbert in the semifinals. Gilbert lost to Helena High’s Tucker Erickson in the finals and Thomas finished third.

Thomas, a junior, is the younger brother of Tyler Thomas, who finished second in the heavyweight division two straight years to Helena Capital’s Toby Erickson, the older brother of this year’s heavyweight champion. The elder Thomas plays football at Oregon State.

Flathead’s other third-place finishers were Cody Tally (125), Jeremiah Gaiser (145) and Larry Francis (171). The Braves’ fourth-place wrestlers were Sunny Cheff (112), Zach Deist (152), Josh Erickson (160) and Travis Ozegovich (215).

The Braves’ streak of five straight titles is the longest active streak in the state and tied for the third longest in Montana history. Butte won 13 straight from 1980-1992, Missoula/ Missoula Sentinel won 10 from 1960-1969 and Ronan won five from 1978-1982.

Six teams have won four in a row, including two teams that claimed their fourth straight in Billings over the weekend. Havre won its fourth consecutive Class A championship and Glasgow earned its fourth straight in Class B/C.

Havre and Sidney have now won the last eight Class A titles, with Sidney winning from 2003-2006, while Glasgow and Conrad have won the last eight in Class B/C, with Conrad going unbeaten from 2003-2006.

The other teams to have won four consecutive state wrestling titles are Miles City in Class A (1958-1961) and Huntley Project in Class B/C (1986-1989), according to the Montana High School Association.

The Glacier Wolfpack emerged as a legitimate Class AA contender this season and headed into the state tournament as one of the favorites. While the Wolfpack had several top finishers, they narrowly missed out on the top five, coming in sixth with 164 ½ points.

Glacier sent two wrestlers to the finals: Gilbert at heavyweight and Logan Clay at 171 pounds. Gilbert was pinned and Clay lost by decision. The Mitchell brothers, Kaleb and Alek, finished third and sixth, respectively, in the 98-pound division. The Wolfpack had several other wrestlers who finished in the top six.

A handful of wrestlers from Northwest Montana also took home trophies in Class A. Columbia Falls senior Kelly Houle won the 215-pound crown and finished his senior year season with the school record in pins with 32. Ronan’s Cameron Neiss placed first at 130 pounds for his second-straight state title. He finished the year undefeated at 41-0.

Brock Picard, a senior at Polson, became the school’s second three-time state champion by taking the 171-pound crown. Toby Cheff won the 189-pound title and his brother Micky narrowly missed his second-straight title, coming in second at 152 pounds. Polson had the strongest team performance, finishing fifth overall.