BUTTE – Winning is nothing new for the Kalispell Flathead wrestling team.
With a 34-31 victory over Billings West, the Braves won the Jim Street Classic Mining City Duals for the third consecutive year.
Flathead went 6-0 over the weekend to extend its dual winning streak to 59 matches.
But it was no easy task, as its final and semifinal victories came by a combined five points.
The Braves faced a 16-point deficit against Great Falls in the semifinals and finished the match with three straight pins to eke out the victory.
“You got to have those tough matches. We want those, that’s what’s going to take you to that next level in this sport,” Flathead head coach Jeff Thompson said.
With the championship match decided by three points, each and every point made a difference for Flathead.
In the 132-pound bout, Diesel Thompson took down Makael Aguayo in the final seconds to claim a 2-1 win.
Ultimately, Kellen Downing’s pin against Jackson Roby clinched the title for the Braves, giving them a nine-point lead with one match remaining.
After West beat out Flathead for the Class AA state title last year, the Braves are hoping these tough early-season matches will serve them well come February.
“In years past we haven’t had any adversity. Especially last year, we had no adversity until the state tournament when we got second place to Billings West. So, I think it’s great to see what we need to work on,” Flathead 205-pounder Anders Thompson said.
For Flathead, its winning streak at the Mining City Duals and overall is no accident.
Many wrestlers on the team compete year-round and dedicate much of their time on the mat. With the long hours spent together, wrestling has become more than just a sport for many of the Braves.
“The amount of guys we have preseason doesn’t change a lot to the amount of guys we have for the high school season. It’s honestly more of a way we live life, than just a seasonal sport,” Anders Thompson said.
Anders Thompson, a two-time state runner-up and the son of head coach Jeff Thompson, recently signed with the University of Oklahoma to continue his wrestling career at the next level.
One of the biggest takeaways from this year’s Mining City Duals could be how tight the team race will be in Class AA this season.
The defending state champions, West, were one match away from lifting the first place trophy. And Great Falls nearly broke Flathead’s dual streak as well, and ended up taking third place.
Butte High, the tournament host, fell to West and Great Falls on Saturday and took fourth place.
“It shows that (Class) AA is going to be a dog fight. There are three teams, neck and neck – Great Falls, Billings West and us – but that’s what makes it fun,” Jeff Thompson said.
The Mining City Duals always serves as a first glimpse of what the season could look like.
For the Braves, they hope it foreshadows another first-place trophy at the end of the season in Billings.
After a weekend that featured 24 teams wrestling in the Mining City, some of the teams won’t see each other again until February at the Metra.
But the environment at the Butte Civic Center gave a taste of what’s to come during the 2023-24 wrestling season in Montana.
“It’s always a fun atmosphere wrestling in Butte, it’s a wrestling town so that’s a lot of fun for us too,” Jeff Thompson said.
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