By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Havre High wrestling team is proving that it can wrestle well in the face of good competition. One week after a strong showing at the Mining City Duals in Butte, the Ponies put together an even stronger showing at the CMR Holiday Classic in Great Falls.
As a team, Havre scratched out a sixth-place finish overall, while finishing second in the smaller-school field behind Class B powerhouse Conrad. The Ponies scored 137.5 team points, finishing just behind the host CMR Rustlers. The tournament was captured by Kalispell, with Billings Senior finishing second. Great Falls High was third finishing, just ahead of Conrad.
Havre's team finish was very impressive given the number of teams and amount competition in the classic, but perhaps more impressive was the dominant performance of Blue Pony standout Jeff Hedges. Hedges cruised to the 125-pound championship, picking up wins over several Class AA opponents along the way. Hedges' performance this weekend earned him the tournament's Most Outstanding Wrestler award.
With his team's high finish in the tournament and the performance of Hedges, Havre High head coach Scott Filius was feeling pretty good about the weekend.
"Typically, this tournament is a good indication of where you are as a team, and I was happy with how our kids wrestled this weekend," Filius said. "We had some kids do really well, and all of our kids competed hard in a very tough tournament.
"Jeff performed really well in an extremely tough weight class, and I expected that," Filius added. "His weight class had three defending state champions in it including him. He was the best wrestler out of all of them. He has just improved so much this season and he is wrestling really well right now."
Hedges' weekend began with a major decision win in the first round on Friday over Houston Bauer of Billings Senior. He followed that up with a win by fall over Nathan Monroe of Browning in round two. Friday night's quarterfinals round saw Hedges continue to roll as he earned a technical fall over Rob Mann of Anaconda. Saturday, Hedges pinned Justin Jones of Conrad to advance to the finals. In the championship match, Hedges went up against Class AA defending state champion Brandon Haman of Great Falls High and much to the surprise of most of the people in attendance, Hedges dominated Haman from start to finish, earning a 14-6 major decision.
"I don't think too many people thought Jeff would win that match," Filius said. "But he wrestled a great match and he really showed how well he is wrestling at this point in the season."
Along with Hedges' championship, the Ponies placed three other wrestlers and had four individuals come within a match or two of placing. Junior Chad Seely rebounded from a second-round loss to finish in third place with a win by fall over Alex Thornton of Big Sandy in the consolation match. In the second round, Seely ran into perhaps the state's best wrestler in Tyrell Todd of Bozeman. Todd is headed to Michigan on a wrestling scholarship.
Freshman Matt Schnittgen also continued to impress as he worked his way to a fourth-place finish at 275 pounds. In the consolation finals, Schnittgen was pinned by Kalispell's Larry Johnston at the 1:55 mark of the match. Freshman Beau LaSalle also had a good showing at 112 pounds. LaSalle earned a fifth-place finish with a 12-2 major decision over Helena Capitol's Kris Knutson in the fifth-sixth place match.
A pair of freshmen for the Ponies also competed well at 98 pounds. Clint Bradbury and Billy Wagner both reached the quarterfinals of the tournament and the duo combined to win five matches for Havre this weekend.
"I was really pleased with how both Wagner and Bradbury competed this weekend," Filius said. "They were in a tough weight class and both of them were close to placing."
"Bill Zuelke also wrestled really well for us," Filius added. "He hasn't had a lot of mat time yet this season and I thought he performed well."
Zuelke was seeing his first action of the season and earned three wins for the Ponies at 215 pounds before losing an 11-7 decision to Bobby Dahl of Helena Capitol in the consolation quarterfinals. Brett Michels also reached the consolation quarterfinals with a pair of victories before losing a tough 5-4 decision to Scott Cassell of Kalispell. Michael Sutherland also competed well for the Ponies going 2-2 on the weekend at 130 pounds. Gray Chagnon also reached the quarterfinals at 105 pounds.
The Ponies will now have a 10-day rest over the Christmas break, and Filius said that he is happy with how his team has progressed thus far.
"We're going to get a little rest and then come back and work hard to keep improving," Filius said. "I like where this team is at right now. I think that if the kids continue to work as hard as they have, we can keep getting better as the season goes on."
Havre will be back in action on Friday, Jan. 2, when it travels to the Cut Bank Invitational.