By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
BILLINGS - Scoring 244.5 points, placing 11 wrestlers and getting four individual state champions is usually a weekend worth bragging about for any high school wrestling team. It often means a team championship.
But for the Havre Blue Ponies, it meant coming up just short in their bid to capture the 2004 Class A state championship Saturday night at the MetraPark in Billings.
The Ponies crowned four state champions - junior Mike Hipple (135), sophomore Evan Hinebauch (160), senior Bill Zuelke (215) and sophomore Matt Schnittgen (275).
But it wasn't enough to catch the now three-time defending state champion Sidney Eagles. The Eagles scored 264 points to Havre's 244.5 points and also crowned five individual champions, as they truly have claimed supremacy in Class A wrestling since 2000. Libby took home the third-place trophy with 188 team points.
"Sidney went on a tremendous run this weekend," said HHS head coach Scott Filius. "I underestimated their depth a little and they proved that they have a very deep team.
"But I am proud of what we accomplished here," he added. "We got four champions and we placed 11 kids. That is a pretty good weekend for any team and any tournament, but especially here."
Havre managed to keep pace with the Eagles for most of the weekend and actually went to bed Friday night with the overall lead. By the time the semifinals started Saturday morning, the tournament was down to a two-team race, just as Filius and many others had predicted.
"I thought that if we could outwrestle Sidney in the wrestlebacks, we would be in really good shape," he said. "But we had a couple of rounds where we didn't wrestle very well and in the end that just put us too far behind.
"But the kids gave us everything they had this weekend," Filius added. "They wrestled hard from start to finish, and you can't ask for anything more out of them than that."
Aside from Havre's four individual champions, the Ponies got a heartbreaking second-place finish from senior Chad Seely at 189 pounds. Havre also got third-place finishes from freshman Chad Ranes (98) and senior Dustin Haukenberry (171). Sophomore Beau LaSalle also battled back from a tough quarterfinal loss to take fifth place at 125 pounds. The sophomore trio of Billy Wagner (105), Clint Bradbury (112) and Nate Harada (119) all placed sixth for the Ponies.
After the tournament, Hipple and Zuelke said they were proud of the team's effort and what the tournament and season meant to the entire HHS wrestling community.
"We came here wanting to win a state championship," Zuelke said. "That didn't happen, but every guy on this team worked hard this year and we still had a great season and a great state tournament."
Said Hipple: "It is a little disappointing not to win the tournament as a team. But we have been a close family all season, and we win and lose together. This has been a great season and we all know we are still a very good team. I don't think this changes that."