By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sports/ email@example.com
One weekend, three duals - it's all that stands between the Havre High wrestling team and the postseason. But before the Ponies can focus on next week's Central A divisional tournament in Browning, they will turn their attention to a trio of duals against some high quality competition
The weekend actually begins tonight when Havre travels to Great Falls to take on the Great Falls High Bison and the CMR Rustlers. On Saturday night, Havre will honor its seniors before taking on the top-ranked in Class B-C, the Conrad Cowboys.
While Blue Pony head coach Scott Filius admits that this is often a time when teams worry more about the postseason then dual matches, he believes that these three duals will be very exciting and very good preparation for his team.
"This is a very good way for us to prepare for the divisional and state tournaments," Filius said. "We have a couple of duals against good Class AA teams and Saturday night's dual with Conrad will be very intense.
"I am hoping that we can go 3-0 this weekend," Filius added. "I don't know that we can do that, but I definitely think we are capable of winning all three."
The Blue Ponies bring a 14-3 dual record into tonight's action with the Bison and Rustlers. Last season in Havre, the Ponies trounced CMR and then proceeded to get trounced by the Bison.
Havre already has a dominant dual win over the Rustlers back at the Mining City Duals in Butte in early December. Obviously Filius is feeling confident about his team's chances in a rematch with the Rustlers, but he also believes his team can find success against the always tough Bison, who are under the direction of Havre native and first-year head coach Steve Komac.
"I think that we have closed the gap on Great Falls High a little bit," Filius said. "They are not as deep as they were last season, and I think we are a much better team than we were a year ago. So it has the potential to be a very close dual."
Another reason Filius likes his chances in Great Falls is the return of several key wrestlers from injury. The Ponies will get back Jeff Hedges, Beau LaSalle and Chad Seely after each missed time due to injury.
Meanwhile, the Bison could possibly see the return of a much-needed wrestler in sophomore 112-pounder Cody Tolliver. Tolliver has been sidelined with a wrist injury for a good portion of the season. Last season, Tolliver and Hedges had several classic battles with Tolliver going 2-1 on the year. Hedges was the only wrestler to defeat the Bison freshman last season. This year, however, Tolliver remained at 112 pounds while Hedges has competed at 125 pounds.
Still, Hedges will be part of one of the marquee matchups of the Havre/GFH dual. He will take on Class AA defending state champion, Brandon Haman, at 125 pounds. Hedges defeated Haman 14-6 in the 125-pound finals of the CMR Holiday Classic in December.
Other intriguing matchups will be freshman Clint Bradbury taking on Bison standout Shane Grever at 98 pounds. The heavyweight match between freshman Matt Schnittgen and Bob Anderson should also be another exciting match.
The Ponies will go with a mixed lineup for each of the duals. Bradbury will go at 98 pounds and Billy Wagner could see action there as well. Gray Chagnon is a question mark at 105; if he cannot go then the Ponies will forfeit the weight. LaSalle will be back in action at 112 pounds and both Scott Sheppard and Nate Harada will wrestle a match at 119 pounds.
With Hedges back at 125 pounds, Michael Sutherland will wrestle at 130 and Logan Reichelt will compete at 135. Adam Burrington will go at 140 pounds and Alex Leyba will be at 145. Cody Seely will wrestle at 152 pounds and Brett Michels, Dallas Thompson and Guy Seely will all rotate between 160 and 171 pounds. Chad Seely will wrestle at 189 pounds and Bill Zuelke will again go at 215 with Schnittgen at heavyweight.
On Saturday night, the Havre High seniors will wrestle at the HHS gymnasium for the final time when the Ponies host the Conrad Cowboys. The Havre dual will be part of a big night of wrestling as the Montana State University-Northern wrestling squad will also host the University of Calgary and NCAA Division I Boise State. A capacity crowd is expected to see the night of wrestling and Filius is looking forward to hosting the Cowboys.
"A lot of people might not think that this dual is all that important because it is so close to the divisional tournament," Filius said. "But this dual is important to us and it is important to Conrad. Given what is going on that night, it should be a very intense and very exciting dual. We would like to come out of there with a win."
Last season the Cowboys routed the Blue Ponies on the last weekend of the regular season in Conrad. But earlier this year, Havre scored a dual win over the Cowboys in Butte. Since then, the Ponies have been chasing Conrad for team titles at several different tournaments. Most recently, Havre finished second to Conrad at the Cut Bank Invitational.
"Conrad is an outstanding team and they are absolutely loaded," Filius said. "I would guess that they will have at least four state champions this year."
Conrad has several top-ranked wrestlers in Class B-C including 112-pounder Thad Zempel. Zempel's brother, Trent, is a top contender at 140 pounds. The Cowboys are also strong at 130 and 135 pounds with Ross Johnson and Caleb Lockyer. Dan Murr is one of Class B's top wrestlers at 152, while Tom Radach is a defending state champion at 189 pounds, but now wrestles in the new 215 pound class.
"This should be a very exciting night because it is the last home dual ever for our seniors," Filius said. "And with Northern there as well we're hoping for a big crowd and some really tremendous wrestling."
Havre will hook up with CMR at 5 p.m. and with Great Falls High at 7 p.m. in the old GFH gymnasium. Saturday's dual with the Cowboys will get underway at 6:30 p.m. at the Havre High gymnasium.