Winter’s Winners

One Northwest Montana team and eight individuals walked away champions at the state wrestling and swimming tournaments

Columbia Falls Mat Cat Taylor Gladeau seemed destined for big things this winter.

The heavyweight was a divisional champion as a sophomore and won four straight matches at the state tournament to finish third, announcing himself as a favorite in 2019.

And Gladeau’s junior year, for the most part, lived up to the hype. He ranked No. 1 in Class A for part of the season and breezed through his first two matches at the Western A divisional, pinning a pair of opponents in 50 seconds or less. But in the divisional final in Butte, Gladeau went toe-to-toe with Browning senior Wacey Zuback and came out on the wrong end of a 5-4 decision, finishing second in the West and earning a tougher draw at the state tournament.

That, however, would not be a problem.

Gladeau rolled through the opening two rounds, pinned Eastern A divisional champion Keegan Mires of Glendive in the semifinals, and advanced to the Feb. 9 main event, the Class A heavyweight title bout at MetraPark in Billings.

His opponent? Wacey Zuback.

Gladeau and Zuback nearly went the distance once again before the Columbia Falls junior pinned Zuback just 24 seconds before the final whistle and won the Class A state championship, one of three Northwest Montana wrestlers to come out on top at the all-class state meet.

The Mat Cats had five placers at the state meet and finished fifth as a team despite qualifying just 11 total wrestlers. Divisional champion Colten McPhee reached the finals at 182 pounds, finishing second, and Jakob Freeman (205) came in third.

Columbia Falls High School wrestler Taylor Gladeau takes on Whitefish’s Brian Sweeney during a meet at Whitefish High School on Jan. 25, 2019. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

Polson was the lone Northwest Montana school to bring home a team trophy, finishing third in Class A with 128 1/2 points, albeit well behind runaway champion Sidney-Fairview (310 1/2). Havre (170) was second.

The Pirates qualified 15 wrestlers for the meet and had five state placers, led by 170-pound champion Hunter Fritsch. The senior finished the year 29-1 and out-pointed Glendive’s Nelson Crisafulli 3-0 in the title tilt. Fritsch was third at 170 a year ago. His teammate, Bridger Wenzel, fell just short in his title bid at 152, losing 5-0 in the final. Rene Pierre added a third-place effort at 113 for Polson.

Libby-Troy senior Buddy Doolin was one of three members of the Greenchain to place, claiming third at 120 pounds, and a pair of Whitefish wrestlers — Nathan Sproul (103) and Dakota Flannery (138) — were fifth.

In Class AA, there was no three-peat for mighty Flathead, whose young lineup managed a seventh-place effort at the state tournament. The Braves’ 116 points lagged well behind state champion Bozeman (260 1/2), but a handful of standout individuals provided a glimpse of Flathead’s future.

No youngster stood out more than freshman Fin Nadeau, who came in second at 132 pounds. After a win by technical fall in the opening round, the Western AA divisional champion battled through two very tight matches, winning 6-2 and 5-4 decisions, to reach the state final. There, Nadeau ran into undefeated Leif Schroeder of Bozeman, who won his third straight state title by pinning the Flathead freshman late in the second period.

Junior Tanner Russell matched Nadeau’s runner-up finish at 170. Russell, too, earned a hard-fought win in the semifinals, outpointing Billings Senior’s Peyton Morton 8-7 to set up a title bout with Billings West’s Jace Rhodes, who came into the tournament undefeated at 20-0. Russell went the distance with Rhodes — the only competitor at the state tournament to do so — but dropped a 6-3 decision.

Four other Braves placed at their respective weight classes, led by junior Brendan Barnes, who bounced back from a second-round loss at 126 to win four matches in a row and finish third.

As for Flathead’s crosstown rivals, Glacier entered the weekend boasting three divisional champions but came away with just one state placer in Tre Krause, who finished fourth at 285. The Wolfpack was 13th as a team with 55 1/2 points.

Class B produced the region’s third and final state champion, Eureka’s Gunnar Smith at 120. The sophomore missed most of the season with an injury, but came back in time to win the Western B divisional and romp to his second straight state title. Smith won the 113-pound crown as a freshman.

The Lions finished fifth as a team as Colstrip won its second consecutive title in Class B.

Whitefish Girls Win State Swimming Title

Five years after the program began, Whitefish High School won its second state championship in girls swimming and three Bulldogs won a total of six individual titles at Bozeman Swim Center, Feb. 8-9.

AJ Popp competes in the 100-yard freestyle during the crosstown swim meet on Jan. 27, 2018. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Whitefish’s girls won the Class A state championship in 2017, finished second last year, and returned to the top of the podium behind a pair of outstanding individual performances. Freshman Ada Qunell touched the wall first in the 200-yard individual medley (2:15.92) and 100 butterfly (1:01.99). She was joined as a two-time winner by teammate Annie Sullivan, a junior, who won the 500 freestyle (5:41.01) and 100 breaststroke (1:14.48).

Whitefish’s 90 points were just enough to beat out defending champion Billings Central (82).

On the boys side, Preston Ring finished off a sensational sophomore year for the Bulldogs with two first-place finishes of his own, winning the 50 free (21.96) and 100 free (48.65).

In Class AA, Glacier and Flathead both missed the team podium as a team, but each squad produced one state champ. A.J. Popp wrapped up her high school career with her second state title, winning the 200 free in 1:56.17 for the Wolfpack. Flathead’s state champion was Jace Reed, who claimed the 100 backstroke in 53.23.

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