Wrestlers Vying For State Berths

By Beacon Staff

With the regular season over, it’s time for Montana’s wrestlers to battle at their divisional tournaments to see who moves on to state.

The Northwestern A divisional tourney is held Saturday Feb. 5 at Whitefish High School and the Western AA seeding tourney is on Feb. 4-5 at Helena Capital. All other divisional and seeding tournaments for Class AA, A and B/C across the state are also scheduled for this weekend.

The tournaments’ results will determine qualifiers and top seeds at the state meets on Feb. 11-12. Locations for the state meets are as follows: CM Russell High School in Great Falls for Class AA, the Butte Civic Center for A and Hamilton High School for B/C.

Flathead and Glacier ended the regular season on high notes and hope to carry that momentum into the postseason tournaments. The Braves and Wolfpack both swept Helena’s two high schools to close out the season.

The Braves have been short-handed for much of the winter but should be at full strength as they make a run at their sixth straight Class AA title. Flathead has a number of wrestlers with state tournament experience, including some who have placed in the past. Cody Tally at 125 pounds, Steel Hahn at 152 and Larry Francis at 160, to name a few, all are seeking deep postseason runs.

Senior Connor Thomas, a heavyweight, has been one of the most dominant wrestlers at any level this year and is looking to avenge a disappointing loss at last year’s state tournament. As a junior, Thomas entered the state tournament as the favorite to win it all but lost to Glacier’s Dan Gilbert before finishing third.

Thomas closed out this year’s regular season by defeating Helena’s Tucker Erickson, the defending state champion. He is the top-ranked heavyweight wrestler in the Tournament of Champions’ all-class poll.

Glacier has solid wrestlers from top to bottom and is one of several teams in the hunt for the Class AA title this year, along with Flathead, Bozeman, Great Falls and others. Among the wrestlers hoping to secure high seeds for state are 98-pound Christian Knopp, 105-pound Kaleb Mitchell and 152-pound Shane St. Onge.

In Class A, Polson, Ronan, Libby and Columbia Falls all have highly ranked wrestlers aiming for strong tournament showings. In last week’s power poll, released before the season’s final matches took place, Polson was ranked fifth overall in Class A and Ronan was 10th.

Polson had multiple wrestlers ranked in the top six, including two at second place: 98-pound Carlos Quinones and 105-pound Dylan Moll. Ronan and Libby had Northwestern A’s only two wrestlers ranked No. 1 in the state. Toby Cheff of Ronan was the top 189-pound wrestler while Libby’s Kyle Leir was ranked first at 140 pounds.

Everybody in Class A is trying to take down four-time defending champion Havre. The Blue Ponies have been ranked in the top two in Class A all season, along with Belgrade. Belgrade has finished second to Havre at the state tournament the past two years.

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