Peering Toward the Podium

Swimming and wrestling student-athletes wrap up the first round of winter sports state championships this weekend

By Micah Drew
Beacon file photo

The second week of March brings an end to some of the first winter sports of the season as wrestlers and swimmers from across the state will convene for their championship competitions. (The Class A state basketball tournament is also underway, beginning March 3.)

The first-ever girls state wrestling tournament took place last month with the Braves bringing home the inaugural state title, and now Flathead High School will host the boys Class AA state tournament. As is the norm for Flathead, the Brave Brawlers are aiming for a state title after holding a top-three spot in the team rankings all year.

In the pool, Whitefish is once again eyeing state titles for both the boys and girls programs, after winning the boys title last year and the girls title in 2017 and 2019. Several swimmers from Kalispell are also looking for podium finishes this weekend.

Here’s what to watch for on March 5 and 6 when the state crowns individual and team champions in both sports.


Flathead High School’s Cade Gardiner wrestles Glacier High School’s Teegan Vasquez at Flathead High in Kalispell on Jan. 10, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

While the pandemic-induced rules governing statewide competitions this season have prevented Flathead from competing against the top-ranked Billings schools, the Brave Brawlers have been undefeated in matchups this year, going 8-0 in dual meets.

Flathead will send 23 wrestlers to the Class AA state tournament, March 5-6, and they won’t have to travel very far. Flathead High School is hosting the state tournament, the first year in a decade that a split tournament system has been implemented, and the first time MetraPark in Billings will not host since 2011, when the arena suffered damage from a tornado.

The Braves were runners-up last year but didn’t have a individual champion. This year, several wrestlers enter the tournament as the No. 1 seed from the west (divisional seeding tournaments were not held for Class AA this year) including Ethan Freund (126), Asher Kemppainen (132), Cade Troupe (145), Fin Nadeau (152), Chase Youso (170), and Ryan Nelson (182).

For the north Kalispell crew, Teegan Vasquez is looking to bring home a second consecutive individual title for Glacier after winning at 113 last year.

Vasquez enters the tournament as the top seed and favorite at 120. He’ll be joined by 16 teammates including fellow top-three seeds Josh Melton (113) and  Kael Willis (182).

In Class A, where divisional tournaments were held, Columbia Falls (205) finished runner-up to Frenchtown (297.5) in the team event to lead all Northwest Montana programs, followed by Libby (194) and Whitefish (142).

The Wildcats qualified 12 wrestlers for state, including divisional champions Justin Windauer (126) and Isaiah Roth (145) and Lucas Thacker (160).

Nathan Sproul won the 113-pound title for Whitefish, one of nine Bulldogs wrestlers to qualify.

Ronan finished fifth as a team at the divisional meet but will send a whopping 11 wrestlers to the state tournament. Polson (9) and Browning (8) will also be well represented.

Bigfork and Eureka each qualified seven for the Class B/C state tourney, including a divisional champ for the Lions, Kyle Durden (126).

Brackets and schedules for the state wrestling tournaments can be viewed here.


Beacon file photo

After last wining a state championship in 2019, Whitefish’s girls are looking to get back to the top of Class A. The Bulldogs are bringing some heavy favorites to the pool including junior Ada Qunell, a two-time individual champ each of the last two years, and junior Helena Kunz, the reigning 100- and 200-yard freestyle champ.

On the heels of the program’s first state title last year, the Whitefish boys are looking to bring home some more hardware. Reigning 100- and 200-yard backstroke champion Logan Botner will return to defend his titles while sophomore Jack McDaniel enters as the fastest swimmer in the 50-yard freestyle.

 In Class AA, Glacier has a state title contender in junior Eden Flake, who was runner-up in the 100-yard butterfly last year. Across town, one of the most prolific swimmers is Flathead junior Lily Milner, who won two races at state as a sophomore, and has posted one of the state’s top-five fastest times in five separate events this winter.

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