By George Ferguson
After a one-year absence, the Havre High school wrestling team returned the Central A wrestling championship to Havre by scoring 259 team points on Saturday at the Central A divisional wrestling tournament in Butte.
The Ponies held off second- place Anaconda, which scored 257 points, and also qualified 15 wrestlers for this week's all-class state tournament in Billings. Belgrade finished in third place with 195 points and Lewistown was fourth with a team score of 171. Defending Central A champion Dillon took fifth with 164 points.
The Ponies also had two individual champions on Saturday. At 112 pounds, Jeff Hedges captured his second straight Central A title and Daine Solomon captured the crown at 152 pounds. But it was the effort of the entire Havre squad that pleased Havre head coach Scott Filius.
"All of our kids came out and wrestled really well on Saturday," Filius said. "We had some kids really step up big and we scored points everywhere all day long."
Filius is also happy to bring the Central A championship back to Havre after losing to Dillon last season.
"I think we kind of overlooked the divisional tournament last year," Filius said. "But the kids all wrestled hard on Saturday and we are excited about winning this tournament."
Havre had six wrestlers in the finals on Saturday. Hedges, who is ranked second in the state at 112 pounds, defeated Kevin Fischer of Anaconda with a pin at the 1:04 mark. Solomon scored a win by technical fall over Belgrade's Jake Arcand. Solomon was leading 19-4 when the match was stopped.
The performance of Solomon was summarized by Filius as one of total domination.
"Daine has been wrestling really well for a while now," Filius said. "He just breezed to the final and really dominated the entire tournament."
Also reaching the final round was freshmen Gray Chagnon at 98 pounds. Chagnon lost the championship match to Kyle Stoddard of Dillon, who had recently dropped to 98 from 105 pounds. At 140 pounds, Chad Zuelke placed second as he fell to Lewistown's Phil Rinaldi, 6-5. Chad Seely dropped the 171-pound final to Jake Jesson of Livingston, but grabbed a big win in the semifinals by defeating Browning's Mike Burns. Seely had lost to Burns the previous three times they had faced each other. At 189 pounds, Nick Johnson also had a solid tournament before falling to the state's top-ranked 189 pounder in Belgrade's Jake Kallestad.
The Ponies also had six wrestlers reach the consolation finals. The Ponies got third-place finishes from Kevin Velk at 112 pounds, Greg Leyba at 135 pounds, Matt Springer at 152 pounds, Colby Mader at 189 pounds and Bill Zuelke at 275. Havre also got fourth-place finishes from Scott Sheppard at 119 pounds and Michael Sutherland at 125. The performances of Velk and Sutherland also caught the attention of their head coach.
"Kevin Velk beat some very tough guys and he really wrestled well," Filius said. "And Sutherland won a really big match to get into the third- and fourth-place match. It was nice to see all those guys that haven't wrestled a lot of varsity do what they did this weekend."
Rounding out the state qualifiers for Havre were Rick Griffis, who placed fifth at 145 pounds and Guy Seely, who placed fifth at 160 pounds.
In all, the Ponies will take 15 competitors to Billings on Friday and that number has Filius pretty excited.
"To have 15 wrestlers in the state tournament means we're going to have a lot of chances to score some points this weekend," Filius said. "I think it also shows that our whole team really stepped up and did a nice job wrestling this weekend."
The Ponies will leave for Billings on Thursday morning. The all-class state wrestling tournament begins on Friday morning at the Billings Metra and continues through Saturday night.