By George Ferguson
It was a night of highs and lows for the Havre Blue Pony wrestling team on Thursday at the Havre High gymnasium. The Ponies opened the evening with a rout of Class AA CMR and then finished off the night by falling to the second-ranked Great Falls High Bison.
It was also senior night as Havre High said good bye to several seniors as a result of the last home meet of the season. In between duals, the Ponies honored seniors Rick Griffis, Chad Zuelke, Greg Leyba, Nick Johnson, Matt Springer, James Albertson and Trevor Nimmick..
The double dual got underway with the Ponies and Rustlers squaring off. The Ponies started things off with a solid win from Scott Sheppard at 119 pounds, as he scored a fall over Zeb Flood at 1:00. That win ignited the Ponies and they surrendered just 19 team points to the Rustlers enroute to a 55-19 victory.
Greg Leyba scored a hard fought 6-5 decision over Matt Peterson at 135 pounds and Chad Zuelke followed suit with a fall over Logan Rainforth to up the score 21-4. After a loss by Griffis at 145, Daine Solomon wrestled to a 16-5 major decision over Ryan McCracken at 152. Junior Guy Seely followed up Solomon's win with a victory by fall at 160 pounds. That left the score at 31-7.
The Rustlers forfeited the 171 and 189 pound divisions but John Turner picked up a win over Havre's Bill Zuelke at 275 pounds to make the score 43-13. Havre and CMR then traded forfeits at 98 and 105 before second-ranked Jeff Hedges finished the Rustlers off with a fall over Derek Smith at 112 pounds.
Havre High head coach Scott Filius was very happy with not only the final score of the dual, but how all of his wrestlers performed on the mat.
"I thought we wrestled very well against CMR," Filius said. "They aren't the strongest team out there, but our kids did a real nice job and it's a nice win for us."
After a short break and the senior night festivities, the Ponies and Bison took to the mat and Great Falls High showed early and often why they are one of Montana's best wrestling programs.
The dual got underway at 140 pounds with Chad Zuelke losing by fall to Russell Damm. Then Class AA's top ranked 145-pounder Jeremy Noble dominated Rick Griffis 9-0 to give the Bison a quick 10-0 lead.
In the third match of the night. Daine Solomon got the Ponies on the board with a hard-fought 13-7 decision over Brandon Henry. Solomon scored early and often, and the match actually wasn't as close as the scoreboard read as Henry scored a couple of late takedowns.
Solomon's performance in both duals caught the attention and praise of his head coach.
"Daine wrestled great again tonight," Filius said. "He is just getting better and better lately. I expected that because he is just a tough kid."
After a Matt Springer loss by major decision, sophomore Chad Seely bounced the Ponies back with a quick pinfall over Ryan Watkins at 171 pounds. Senior Nick Johnson followed Seely with a solid pinfall over Caleb Cunningham at 2:26. The match at 189 pounds was tied at two points apiece after one period and Johnson appeared to be in trouble early in the second period. But he used a great technical move to gain an edge over Cunningham and score six more points for his team.
Johnson's victory momentarily tied the dual at 15-15. However, the Bison came right back with a win by fall in the 275 pound division. Things got interesting in a hurry.
Freshmen Gray Chagnon's 98-pound match with Ben Spencer was tied at 2-2 after the first period. Spencer had Chagnon on the ropes for much of the second period. However, Chagnon scored a two-point reversal late in the period and used that momentum to score a thrilling pinfall at the 3:29 mark of the match. Chagnon's win was another victory that pleased Filius.
"That was a nice win for Gray," Filius said. "It was good to see him get to wrestle a true 98-pounder for a change and he showed what he is capable of."
Chagnon's victory again momentarily tied the dual at 21-21, but the Ponies forfeited the 105 division. That set up the moment of the night. For the second time in Havre this year and the fourth time all season the state's two best 112 pounders were set to do battle as GFH'S top-ranked Kody Tolliver and Havre High junior Jeff Hedges squared off. Tolliver was coming into the match with just one loss on his resume which was to Hedges, while Hedges has just three losses this season and two of those coming from Tolliver
In the first period, Hedges scored a late two-point takedown and held that lead through the remaining seconds. Tolliver gained control in the second period by locking Hedges in a cradle that scored a three-point near fall as well as chewing a lot of time off of the clock. Tolliver also caught Hedges with the move again in the third and managed to score a two-point reversal and hold on for a 5-2 victory. Despite the loss by Hedges, both wrestlers showed tremendous skills and put on a show for the fans.
"Tolliver has really turned out to be a great wrestler and a very tough kid," Filius said. "Jeff wrestled really well too, but that kid (Tolliver) just has a gas tank that doesn't quit and he showed it tonight."
Tolliver's victory gave the Bison a 30-21 lead and the rest of the night belonged to them. Of the four remaining matches, Great Falls High picked up two major decisions and two wins by fall enroute to a 51-21 final score.
Despite what the scoreboard said, Filius knows his team gave everything they had to the Bison and he couldn't ask for more.
"The kids did everything they could tonight and they all wrestled really well," Filius said. "I thought Scott Sheppard did a real nice job for us tonight and they all did everything they could do."
"Great Falls High is a real solid team and they are very sound technically and experienced as well," Filius continued. "But I think our kids will come out of this alright and feeling confident."
The Ponies dual record this season is now at 14-4 and they will have one final tuneup before next weekend's Central A Divisional tournament. Havre will travel to Conrad for a dual match on Saturday night. The dual is scheduled to get underway at 6:30 p.m. at Conrad High School.