By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
Havre high head wrestling coach Scott Filius has taken the Blue Pony wrestling program to the top of the Class A mountain before. And by all accounts, his Pony team took a slide backwards last season as Havre finished out of the top ten at the Class A state tournament in Billings in February.
This year Filius will try to mold a young but talented group of Havre high wrestlers in hopes of making the long journey back up the mountain to reclaim their status as a Class A wrestling power.
The Ponies begin the 2003-04 season unranked in the Class A preseason poll and expectations from outside of Havre aren't extremely high. But all of that is just fine with Filius, who admits that it will be nice to not have the target on the back of his team that usually comes with being one of the elite teams in Class A wrestling.
"It doesn't bother me at all that we are not ranked and that some people may not be looking at us to do much this season," Filius said. "Right now we have a lot of young kids on this team, and we are going to go with some freshmen right away. But I really like how these kids are wrestling right now. I think that our kids are going to sneak up on some people at the end of the season."
When the Blue Ponies open their schedule tonight at the Havre High Gymnasium, there will be a lot of new faces on the mat. Havre does return two-time defending state champion Jeff Hedges, who will start the season at 130 pounds.
Sophomore Grey Chagnon is also back after a very successful freshman season. Junior Chad Seely also returns from last year's team and will compete at 189 pounds.
Scott Sheppard is back at 125 pounds and he is hoping to build on the improvement he made towards the end of last season. The only other Blue Pony wrestler that saw significant varsity mat time last season will be Michael Sutherland at 135 pounds.
The rest of the Blue Pony lineup will be very young and inexperienced. Still Filius is excited at the prospect of all of the young talent that he has in the practice room right now.
"So far in practice we have had some freshmen really taking it to some of our older kids and that is kind of nice to see," Filius said. "Kids are working really hard right now and our practices have been really good. All of these kids are working their tails off right now and I think we are definitely going to build on this down the road."
In the first four weight classes, the Ponies will go with three freshmen and a sophomore. Freshman Billy Wagner will start at 98 pounds and freshmen Clint Bradbury will wrestle at 105. With Chagnon now at 112, the Ponies will go with talented freshmen Beau LaSalle at 119 pounds. The Ponies will also go with youth from 140-152. Freshmen Logan Reichelt will compete at 140 pounds with sophomore Alex Leyba at 145. Sophomore Cody Seely will wrestle 152 and Brett Michels will go at 160 pounds.
Rounding out the Blue Pony lineup will be senior Guy Seely at 171 pounds and Rick Hoium at the new 215 pound weight class. Dallas Thompson and Bill Zuelke will also see action at 215 during the season.
Although this is just the opening weekend of the season, it will be a big one for the young Blue Ponies. Havre will not wrestle at home again until February 24, which is the week before the Central A Divisional tournament.
Havre will begin the weekend with duals against Central A foes Belgrade and Livingston. Most of the Ponies will be moving up in weight for the duals and Filius said that both matches should be good for his younger wrestlers to get their feet wet as many are seeing their first varsity action.
"The duals will be good for all of our kids because a lot of them haven't wrestled at this level," Filius said. "It is also good for some of our veteran kids because they are hungry to get back on the mat."
On Saturday, the Ponies will host the Havre Invitational wrestling tournament. The tournament will feature Belgrade, Livingston, Lewistown and Browning as well as Shelby, Malta, Chinook, Valier and Chester. The Great Falls schools will not return to the tournament this season, but Filius said that Saturday should be a very competitive day regardless of the amount of teams in the tournament.
"There will be some very good wrestling this weekend," Filius said. "I think our kids have a chance to do very well. It will be good for our team to get a lot of matches in and then we'll see where we're at."
Tonight's matches get underway at 6 p.m. when Havre faces Belgrade. The Ponies will then take on Livingston at 7:30 p.m. Saturday's Havre Invitational will get underway at 9 a.m. and all the action will take place at the Havre High Gymnasium.