By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
When you mention the Havre High wrestling team and the Central A conference in the same sentence, one word that sums it all up very simply - domination.
The Ponies have owned the Central A wrestling landscape for what seems like an eternity, and on Saturday they will most likely continue that domination on their own mats as the 2005 Central A divisional wrestling tournament comes to the HHS gymnasium.
The No. 2-ranked Ponies are seeking yet another divisional championship this weekend and come into the tournament fresh off dual wins over Class AA CMR last Thursday night and Class B-C powerhouse Conrad on Saturday.
Havre will be the heavy favorite this weekend as the Central A has struggled to keep up with the rest of the Class A ranks. No other Central A team is ranked in the Class A power poll and only two Central A wrestlers other than Havre High competitors are ranked in this week's individual rankings.
To tilt things even more in the Ponies' favor is the realignment of Class A this past summer. The Ponies' main competition in years past, Dillon and Anaconda, are now members of the Southwestern A divisional.
While the Blue Ponies have been dominant from start to finish this season, winning four tournament team titles and finishing the regular season with a 17-2 dual record, HHS head coach Scott Filius said that his team is taking nothing for granted on Saturday.
"Our division isn't as strong as some of the others from top-to-bottom," Filius said. "But our goals are to win this tournament and get every one of our wrestlers to state. The main objective beyond that is to get as many kids as possible into the best bracket as possible at the state tournament, so our first-round matches are just a little easier."
Despite being the overwhelming favorite, it is obvious that there is still a lot to wrestle for.
It may not seem big, but the tournament seeding is crucial. For the Ponies, that means finishing in the top four places in their respective weight classes at the divisional tournament. It is something that Filius believes all of his 19 competitors are capable of doing on Saturday.
"I think we have a lot of kids that should reach the finals and win titles this weekend," Filius said. "There are a couple of weight classes with some very good individuals, but I would like to think that all of our kids can get into the top four this weekend and that is what our goal is."
While winning a team title is never a foregone conclusion, it will be very difficult for any of the five remaining teams in the conference to unseat the deep and talented Ponies this season.
Next to Havre, Lewistown is probably the most talented team in the tournament, but the Eagles possess just one ranked wrestler in No. 1-ranked 145-pounder Dustin Scotten. Beyond the Eagles, only Belgrade will field a full varsity team this weekend. The Panthers also have a talented individual at 152 pounds in Trevor Thomas.
Livingston will bring the only other ranked wrestler to the field by way of Lance Wilson at 130 pounds. Browning and Butte Central will also be in attendance this weekend, but neither school fields a full varsity team.
"I think that Lewistown is definitely a team that is capable of scoring some points," Filius said. "They have the best 145-pounder in the state and they have some other kids that are capable of doing well here. Browning also has a couple of good individuals and so does Belgrade. But if all of our kids wrestle like they are capable of this weekend, I think that we should be do pretty well at the end of the day."
The Ponies will enter 19 wrestlers in the field this weekend which is the maximum allowed in Class A. While all of those wrestlers should undoubdtedly qualify for next week's state tournament in Billings, many of them are also favorites to win individual Central A championships.
Leading the way for Havre is top-ranked Evan Hinebauch. The sophomore 160-pounder has lost just once in what has been a dominant first season at Havre High. The Ponies also have the top-ranked wrestlers at 135 pounds in Mike Hipple, at 189 pounds in senior Chad Seely and at 275 pounds in sophomore Matt Schnittgen. Schnittgen and Seely are looking to repeat as Central A champions.
Havre will also double up at several weights this weekend. Chad Ranes and Ryan Shelstad could very well meet in the championship match at 98 pounds as could 171-pounders Dustin Haukenberry and Cody Seely. Both wrestlers have been ranked in that weight class this season. The Ponies will also enter both fifth-ranked Bill Zuelke and Tyler Wheeler at 215 pounds. Senior Stephen Brown will join Schnittgen in the heavyweight division.
The top of Havre's lineup also has several favored wrestlers this weekend. Sophomore Billy Wagner will be favored at 105 pounds as will fellow sophomore Clint Bradbury at 112. Havre will also be strong at 119 and 125 pounds with sophomores Nate Harada, ranked fifth, and Beau LaSalle, ranked fourth, respectively.
Rounding out the Blue Pony lineup this weekend will be Gray Chagnon at 130 pounds, Mike Sutherland at 140 pounds, Adam Burrington at 145 pounds and Dallas Thompson at 152. Sutherland and Thompson will also be favored in their respective weight classes.
The Central A wrestling tournament will get under way at 9 a.m. on Saturday. The semifinals should begin around 11 a.m. and the finals are scheduled for 1 p.m. All of the action will take place at the HHS gymnasium and the top six wrestlers from each weight class will move on to the All-Class state wrestling tournament Feb. 11-12 in Billings.