Glacier’s Wrestling Rise

By Beacon Staff

The clock was winding down inside the Glacier High School wrestling room and eight pairs of boys were locked together in the final matches of practice. The wrestlers jostled across the padded mat covering the floor as a large crowd of teammates and coaches chipped in support and advice.

Head coach Mark Fischer walked between the bouts noticing every detail.

“Get that smile off his face,” Fischer told one wrestler.

Although it came in passing, the head coach’s remark was emblematic of Glacier’s transformation.

After months of 6 a.m. practices and stringent training leading up to the state wrestling tournament, Fischer has been trying to contain his team’s enthusiasm. It’s a task he’s happy to have.

“These kids are excited,” he said after practice recently. “There’s a lot of teams right now that are burnt out, but all I see out of our kids is excitement.”

Kalispell has produced another good crop of wrestling talent, perhaps the best in the state.

The Wolfpack have won or placed high at every big tournament this season and are currently the top-ranked team in Class AA for the first time ever, as voted on by the state’s coaches. During this milestone year, the Wolfpack have won the Class AA Duals, the Mining City Duals and the 18-team Pacific Northwest Classic in Spokane. Glacier took third at the prestigious Jug Beck Rocky Mountain Classic.

Five Wolfpack wrestlers won Western AA titles last weekend and 19 athletes from the school qualified for state at the seeding tournament at Flathead High. Lane Armstrong (189 pounds), Shane St. Onge (160), Cooper Sipe (145), Kaleb Mitchell (130) and Lucas Mantel (135) all won individual titles. Flathead’s Larry Francis won at 171 for the Braves, who qualified 15.

The Wolfpack are one of the presumptive favorites entering the state tournament, Feb. 10-11 at the MetraPark in Billings. Second-ranked Great Falls and third-ranked Billings Skyview appear to be the top teams standing in the way of Glacier’s first-ever championship.

Although Fischer is trying to keep the Wolfpack humble and focused leading up to the state finale, he isn’t shy when describing their skills.

“I think we’ve proven we can wrestle with everybody,” he said. “It’s just going to be that team that puts it together at the right time … I’ve been able to sleep at night because I know these guys have been doing everything they possibly can to get better.”

Last year the Wolfpack had their best finish since the program started in 2007-08. The Wolfpack scored 231 points and placed second behind Bozeman.

This year the boys have built on last season’s accomplishment and appear more confident.

“Our team is wrestling phenomenal right now,” said Sipe, Class AA’s top-ranked wrestler at 145 pounds. “We started as one of the bottom teams and now we’re up at the top. It’s crazy. It’s really cool.”

Several other local wrestlers are top contenders for individual medals at state. In the second to last coaches’ poll of the season, St. Onge is currently ranked second at 160 pounds. Zach Barber is third at 135. Mac Sutherland is the second-ranked heavyweight. Mitchell is fourth in 130. At Flathead, Francis is the top-ranked wrestler at 171 and has had a remarkable season, winning at Jug Beck. Sunny Cheff is ranked fourth at 145. Jacob Egley is fourth at 152.

Glacier’s veteran wrestlers don’t have to be reminded what the past seasons were like. As freshmen, this year’s seniors were on a team that took last in their pool at Mining City. The group managed to place seventh at state, far better than the previous year’s 12th place finish. Meanwhile, across town, Flathead High School has won seven state championships, including five straight from 2006-10.

“Years before it just seemed like we got pounded by everyone else,” said Armstrong, ranked second at 189 pounds. “Then last year we started winning.”

Many team members will vouch for the program’s turnaround being rooted in Fischer’s enthusiasm and shared work ethic. A 1993 Polson High School graduate, Fischer has been Glacier’s head coach from the beginning and preaches discipline and wholehearted training. The banner painted across the team’s training room sums up Fischer’s goal – “Building a tradition, one wrestler, one day at a time.”

“The program we have going is phenomenal,” Sipe said.

But Fischer describes himself as the supporting cast when it comes to Glacier’s transformation. He credits the steadfast commitment of past and present team members and coaches who stuck with the upstart program despite faint success. He credits the youth wrestling programs for nurturing skills early on. He credits Flathead High School, which has “set the example for everybody over the years.”

Glacier’s rise in wrestling can be explained by several factors, including the city itself.

“It’s an incredible wrestling town,” Fischer said of Kalispell. “It’s like a dream town when it comes to wrestling.”