By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Not even one of the state's worst winter storms in the last 10 years will be enough to slow down the red-hot Havre High wrestling team.
But this weekend the Ponies' depth and talent will once again be put to the test when they travel to the always-tough Cowboy Invitational in Miles City.
The Ponies have been ranked No. 1 in Class A since the second week of the season and have captured first place honors at every tournament they have attended this season. Havre also possesses a near-perfect dual record, with their only loss coming at the hands of Class AA defending state champion Kalispell.
With all of the accolades Havre has achieved this season, HHS head coach Scott Filius still thinks that his team can be better. And it will have to be better if it expects to continue its streak of consecutive tournaments won this weekend.
"We are definitely competing at a very high level right now and our whole team wrestled great in Cut Bank," Filius said. "But I would have to say that this weekend might be the toughest tournament we have been to so things should be pretty exciting."
The reason Filius gives such high praise to the field in Miles City is due to its visitors from the neighboring states. Gillette, Wyo. has the top-ranked Class AA team in Wyoming this year and is always in the hunt for a team title in Miles City. Gillette also owns a dual win over top-ranked Class AA Billings Skyview, who will also be in attendance this weekend.
The tournament will feature two of North Dakota's top wrestling programs from Bismarck and Minot, as well as a pair of tough South Dakota schools.
Class A will also be well represented with the top-ranked Blue Ponies along with second-ranked Sidney and fifth-ranked Hardin in the field. The field is simply loaded and Filius believes that the Cowboy Invitational has the potential to be Montana's best wrestling tournament this season.
"Usually, I think that the CMR tournament is the most difficult tournament of the year," Filius said. "But with how good Gillette is this season and all of the other good programs in Miles City this weekend, this tournament could possibly be the best tournament of the year for us."
And while the tournament is deep and talented, that is nothing new to the Blue Ponies. Despite all of the fierce competition that Havre will see on the mat over the next two days, Filius said that there is no reason why his team can't perform as well as its has thus far.
"There are going to be some great individual wrestlers in this tournament," Filius said. "But we have some depth and some great individuals ourselves, so if we wrestle like we have been, I think we will do just fine."
There will be two changes to the HHS lineup this weekend, but don't think for one second that that means Havre will drop off.
Lorren Mack will be in for Clint Bradbury at 112 pounds and senior Dustin Haukenberry returns to his spot at 171 pounds. Haukenberry has suffered just one loss this season.
The rest of the HHS lineup will remain the same with Chad Ranes and Billy Wagner at 98 and 105 pounds, respectively. Nate Harada will go at 119 pounds followed by Beau LaSalle at 125 pounds and Mike Hipple at 130 pounds. Mike Sutherland, Logan Reichelt and Adam Burrington will compete at 135, 140 and 145 pounds respectively, and Dallas Thompson will again be at 152. Undefeated sophomore Evan Hinebauch will once again be favored this week at 160 pounds. Chad Seely will go at 189 and Bill Zuelke will wrestle at 215 pounds. As always, Sophomore Matt Schnittgen will compete at heavyweight for the Ponies.
Hipple, Hinebauch and Schnittgen are all currently ranked first in the latest Class A standings.
The Cowboy Invitational will get underway at 10 a.m. on Friday morning in Miles City. The finals are scheduled to start at 6 p.m. on Saturday night.