By Bruce Sayler
BILLINGS — Getting to state is a major part of the battle for Montana’s high school wrestlers. Such is even true for just those driving to the tournament.
Wintry roads with snow, ice and wind escorted and challenged the thousands of fans to The Metra’s Rimrock Auto Arena for the 2018 edition of the Montana high school wrestling championships, which began on Friday.
Qualifying to be on the mats in the big building is even more difficult and those who achieve the success of Butte High semifinalists Gabe Tierney, Kobe Moreno and Jeff Queer to this spot in te tourney have proven plenty of mettle.
“You don’t get here by losing,” Butte Central head coach Robin Moodry agreed to the observation.
The first day ended with Butte High sending eight wrestlers on to Saturday action from the 16 Bulldogs who made the trip. Tierney, Moreno and Queer head the list. Tierney is a senior at 120 pounds, Moreno a sophomore at 170 and Queer is a senior and the reigning state Class AA 285-pound limit champion.
The other five Bulldogs — junior Wil Queer at 103 pounds, sophomore Scout Allen at 126, junior Carl Anderson at 160, sophomore Kameron Moreno at 182 and senior Greyson Mandic at 205 — are working their ways through the consolation wrestlebacks.
Semifinals and the next round of wrestlebacks are to start at 9:30 a.m. All winners in that session will earn state place-winnings.
Butte Central junior Clay Fisher is also battling through the consolation bracket, at the Class A 126-pound class.
Neither Butte High or Butte Central are contending for team championships. Some shows of strength by top teams were performed in Friday’s early rounds with the first-day leads going to defending champion Kalispell Flathead in AA, Sidney in Class A and Colstrip in Class B-C. Havre, the five-time defending state Class A champion, is in third place in the Class A standings.
“It’s so emotional,” Butte High head coach Cory Johnston said about competing in the state tournament. “But, I thought our kids wrestled really well. There are always things we think could’ve gone the other way.
“We’ve thought, though, we could get eight or nine on the podium and we still have a shot at that.”
The Bulldog squad is a young one with just three seniors making the trip and all three — Jeff Queer, Tierney and Mandic — still set to go another day, including Queer and Tierney in the semifinals.
Both Butte Central wrestlers who qualified for the tourney — Fisher and senior 103-pounder Roy Russell — won their first-round bouts, but lost in the second. Fisher rebounded for a win in his first wrestleback, but Russell came up short on points.
“Clay came back and beat a kid from Ronan who’s good and now he’s just one match away from placing,” Moodry said. “He has a good attitude and is ready to get after it. He wants to be on the podium.”
Russell was competing in his fourth state tournament, a goal of all high school wrestlers when they show up for their first practice.
“I’m happy he stayed with it and stuck with the team,” Moodry said. “He should be proud of himself.”
Russell was a two-time state place-winner during his prep career.
One of the more obvious experiences of highs and lows was that of Butte High sophomore s152-pounder Quinn Sullivan. The Bulldog stunned top-seeded Stormee Kipp of Missoula Big Sky with an 8-6 win in overtime in the first round.
He lost on a fall to Logan Tweddell of Big Sky in the next round, then met Dre Davis of Missoula Sentinel in the second consolation round. A tough tussle ensued with neither wrestler able to take the other off his feet until Davis gained the advantage for a pin with a trip. Onlookers described the maneuver as a “judo move.”
Tierney will wrestle Hayden Azure of Missoula Hellgate in the semifinals at Kobe Moreno will go up against Brock Bushfield of Big Sky. Queer pinned Dakota Friesen of Hellgate in 1:23 and Jake Slagel of Helena Capital in 36 seconds to bring on a Saturday morning semifinal tilt with Alek Paull of Flathead.
Some other Bulldogs came up with important efforts. Johnston pointed to Allen, Kameron Moreno and Mandic as examples.
“Scout really had a nice day,” Johnston said. “He started out with a really tough kid and beat a kid he lost to at divisionals. Greyson wrestled really well.”
Allen recovered from a first-round loss to top-seeded Austin Murphy of Helena High, then scored a 10-5 decision over Braden Comer of Flathead and decisioned Cache Hilliard of Great Falls High 6-3 to push himself into place-winning possibility.
Mandic was outpointed by top-seeded Bryar Newbary of Sentinel in the first round, then rebounded for a 34-second pin over Ross Calhoon of Flathead. Mandic’s match with Kordell Miller of Billings West in consolation competition stood at 1-all late in the bout. The two entangled and fell to the mat with Mandic scooting behind his opponent to notch the takedown with four seconds left and came out with a victory scored 4-1.
Anderson won his first-round bout in 1:37, pinning Jase Lewis of Hellgate. Defending champion Jordan Komac of Great Falls then had to work for a 5:30 pin over Anderson before the Bulldog came back with a 7-0 shutout over Wyatt Shinn of Big Sky.
Kameron Moreno is just a point out of probably wrestling in the semifinals. He stapled Luke Wilson of Hellgate in the first round before coming out on the short end of a 4-3 score to Brenner Bushfield of Big Sky in the quarterfinals. Moreno roared back with a 35-second pin of Kaiden Maciel of Big Sky.
Tierney’s wins were a 3:39 pin over Kyle Krstulich of Sentinel and a 10-4 decision over Bridger Lamb of Big Sky. Kobe Moreno tallied a 17-2 technical fall over Abraxas Brydon of Sentinel in 3:01 and a 1:26 pin over Trent Helman of Big Sky.
An unfornate turn for Butte High saw Wil Queer matched against freshman teammate Keagan Gransbery in a loser-out bout. Queer won on a pin. He had two wins on the day. The Bulldogs also got a consolation-round win from junior Kole McGrath at 145 pounds.
Fisher’s wins for Butte Central were a 2:53 pin over Brennan Hager of Miles City and an 8-2 decision over Owen Brown of Ronan. Russell scored an 11-1 major decision over Kolby Hutzenbiler of Sidney.
Dillon’s Brent Tezak remained on track for his third straight state championshjp. The 160-pounder is 22-0 for the season after pins over Taylor Gopher of Havre and Braydon Stone of Columbia Falls. Tezak will wrestle Jeff Jones of Sidney in the semifinals.
Tilynne Vasquez, looking to be Montana’s first girl to win a state title, remained in contention for a championship. The Flathead senior will meet crosstown rival Cody Frost of Kalispell Glacier in the Saturday morning semis.
Undefeated 138-pounder Charlie Klepps of Billings Senior is hunting his fourth state crown, the only wrestler doing so at The Metra this year, and is on the cusp of succeeding with two wins Friday. His formidable opponent in the semifinals will be Reece Eckley of Sentinel.
Flathead has 133 points to lead the AA with Bozeman in second place with 107. Billings Skyview is third with 105 1/2. Butte High sits in ninth place with 62 points. Sidney leads Lewistown 119 1/2 to 102 in Class A, and Colstrip paces Class B-C with 76 while Eureka sits second with 62 1/2.
The Saturday 9:30 a.m. semifinals and consolation quarterfinals will be followed by consolation semifinals at 11:30, consolation finals at 1:30 and the championship finals at 3:15.
Complete results can be found at trackwrestling.com.