By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
The preparation is over. All the practices and all of the extra work the Havre High wrestling team put in over Christmas break has all led up to the next two weekends, beginning on Saturday when Havre officially enters postseason action in Browning for the Central A divisional wrestling tournament.
The Ponies will be in a familiar position when the tournament begins Saturday morning, according to veteran head coach Scott Filius.
"I would say that we are the favorites heading into this weekend," Filius said. "I would say that because we are a little deeper than the rest of the teams that will be there. We also really weren't challenged by anybody in our division in duals this season."
Besides being the favorite this weekend, the Ponies will also be defending their Central A team title from last season. But that is in the past and Filius hopes his wrestlers understand that last season means nothing and take nothing for granted in Browning.
"This tournament has a lot of good individual competition," Filius said. "All of our kids will have some tough matches along the way. But if they all wrestle to their capabilities, we should be able to have a pretty successful tournament.
As for the rest of the Central A division, Filius said that Belgrade and Anaconda should give the Ponies the most trouble in the team competition. Meanwhile, Dillon, Browning, Lewistown and Butte Central all have several standout wrestlers but are probably not deep enough to make a run at the team title.
Overall, the Central A has three teams ranked in the latest Class A power poll. The Ponies are ranked sixth with Anaconda is seventh, while Belgrade is currently ninth.
"One team that could surprise some people this weekend is Lewistown," Filius said. "They have been wrestling really well as of late. Their problem is that they don't have very much in the first four weight classes. After that, they are really strong though."
Class A allows each team to take four extra wrestlers to its respective divisional tournaments. Besides Havre's normal varsity roster, the Ponies will also take freshman Billy Wagner at 98 pounds, freshman Nate Harada at 119 pounds, Dallas Thompson at 171 pounds and Colby Mader at 189 pounds.
As for qualifying for the state tournament, the Central A takes five wrestlers from most of the weight classes. Several weights will take six wrestlers, but those specific weights will not be determined until after the tournament is over.
Individually, Havre will have favorites at 98 pounds in freshman Clint Bradbury and freshman Beau LaSalle at 112 pounds. Sophomore Gray Chagnon is expected to battle with Anaconda's Dustin Hansen at 105, while Scott Sheppard will try to knock off top-ranked Dustin Brown of Butte Central at 119 pounds.
Jeff Hedges is looking for his fourth straight divisional championship and his first at 125 pounds. At 189 pounds, Chad Seely will be a heavy favorite to capture a divisional championship and freshman Matt Schnittgen will be equally favored at 275 pounds.
"I think realistically we should have seven or eight kids in the finals this weekend," Filius said. "We should have a very good chance to qualify a lot of kids for the state tournament. That will be important if we want to have a chance to bring home a trophy from the state tournament this year.
"Hopefully, the kids will be focused and they can wrestle like they have been," Filius added. "If we wrestle well, I would be really surprised if anyone knocks us off."
The Central A divisional tournament is scheduled to get underway on Saturday at 8:30 a.m. All of the action will take place at the Browning High School gymnasium.