By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
For Chinook High School wrestling coach Perry Miller, it's like watching a very long journey come to an end. Miller, who doubles as the freestyle wrestling coach in Chinook, has watched some of his wrestlers compete since they were 4-years-old.
This weekend will be the culmination of that journey as four seniors lead the Beeters into the Class B-C state wrestling tournament, beginning on Friday at the Metra Park in Billings.
Chinook is coming off a very successful fourth-place finish at last weekend's Northern B-C divisional in Chester. The Beeters got a pair of individual titles from Eric and Evan Hinebauch while placing six other wrestlers in the top three.
This past weekend's success has Miller and his team anxious with anticipation for this coming weekend.
"We feel really good about where we're at," he said. "We legitimately have two or three individual title contenders if everything works out well."
Both Hinebauchs should be factors in their respective weight classes along with seniors Jeremy Painter and Kris Parsons.
Eric Hinebauch is showing no ill-effects from missing the first half of the season with a blood clot in his shoulder. He cruised to a divisional title at 189 pounds and will look to improve on his two previous third-place finishes at state.
"There is nothing easy at the state tournament," Miller said. "But Eric should be right there at the end."
Indeed, Hinebauch will face stiff competition from Kyle Buck of Choteau, Logan Labbe of Superior and Dan Larson of Cut Bank.
Evan Hinebauch will also be eyeing a spot during Saturday's championship round at 160 pounds. Just a freshman, Hinebauch is ranked third at 160 and should contend for the finals. He will face some tough competition from Arlee's Ryan Smith, Poplar's Chris Gorder and Choteau's Brian Neill.
Painter finished third at 145 pounds at the divisional, but Miller really felt like he could have easily won it. Painter also missed the beginning of the season with a broken arm, but is getting stronger with every match.
However, Painter will most likely face two-time defending state champion Nathan Hopstad in the quarterfinal round of the tourney.
"Painter wrestled Hopstad to a 4-1 loss," Miller said. "I know no one else has wrestled him that close this season. Hopstad is the one to beat. He's tough but funny things happen at state."
Parsons, who finished second at 130 pounds, losing to Conrad's Ross Johnson, is also capable of contending. He brings a 35-8 record to Billings with three of those losses coming to either Johnson or top-ranked Spencer Griffiths of Simms. Tyler McGillivary of Superior should also figure into the mix at 130.
Other qualifiers for the Beeters include Brandon Zam at 98 pounds, Matt Finley at 119, Cameron Overcast at 105 and Troy Kuntz at heavyweight.
It's a pretty deep team even after the loss of Miller's son, Howie, who is out with a serious illness and Brian Chatman at heavyweight. The depth has Miller hoping for a minimum of a top 10 finish and the possibility of making the top five.
"We're a legitimate top 10 team," he said. "I told the kids that I'd love to see them finish in the top five. I think it could happen if they all wrestle well."
As for the team title, Miller isn't ready to hand it to perennial champ Conrad just yet.
"Two weeks ago I would have said Conrad was the team to beat," Miller said. "A lot of teams are gunning for them and they don't have the depth they normally do. But Arlee, Cut Bank and Choteau all have good teams. (Conrad) should get their top kids to the finals, but I think that there are a lot of good individuals out there who will take some of their points away, including a few of our guys."
State tournaments bring out a myriad of emotions while competing in a pressure-packed situation, and Miller knows that high expectations can add to that pressure. Still, he's positive his wrestlers will put in an intense effort.
"There's no quit in them," he said. "It doesn't matter who they wrestle, they'll battle them to the end. I couldn't be more proud of them and I know we're going to make some noise this weekend."
The Class B-C tournament will begin on Friday morning at the Metra Park. The semifinal and championship rounds will be held on Saturday.