By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
BILLINGS - If you believe in destiny, then you know that it plays a big part in the atmosphere at the Montana All-Class State wrestling tournament each and every year.
In 2005, destiny wasn't quite on the side of the Havre High wrestling team, but it certainly was on the side of several Blue Pony grapplers Saturday night at the MetraPark in Billings.
Over the course of two days, Havre chased the Sidney Eagles and ultimately came up short in their bid to unseat the Eagles as state champions.
By tournament's end the Eagles had captured their third straight Class A state championship by scoring 264 points while the Blue Ponies finished a close second with 244.5 points. Sidney and Havre were really the only two teams that threatened to get on the winners stand in the team race. The Libby Loggers finished a distant third with 188 points and Columbia Falls was an even more distant fourth with 145 points.
Still the Ponies did crown four individual champions in Mike Hipple, Evan Hinebauch, Bill Zuelke and Matt Schnittgen. This coming a year after Havre had no wrestlers in the finals in 2004 and only one individual champion in 2003.
After the tournament, HHS head coach Scott Filius, who has two state championships since taking the head coaching job at Havre High in the mid-'90s, had mixed emotions about the weekend, but overall was as proud of his team as any coach in the building.
"We came here and wrestled hard and at times we wrestled really well," Filius said. "I know these kids wanted to win this tournament pretty badly, and we came up just a little bit short.
"I thought that our depth could stay with Sidney's depth the whole way," he added. "But that didn't happen. We had a couple of rounds where we didn't wrestle well and their depth really pushed them through. But I am really proud of all of these kids. This season was a lot of fun and this was a tremendous team to coach."
In reality, the Ponies did falter just twice as a team. Havre pushed 17 of its 19 wrestlers into the quarterfinals, but then stumbled early on in that round. But as they would do several times during the tournament, the Ponies stormed back in the wrestlebacks on Friday night and actually went to sleep with a half-point lead on the vaunted Eagles.
In the semifinals, the Ponies nearly matched the Eagles, putting five wrestlers into the finals to Sidney's six. But later in the day, Havre would meet it's undoing in the consolation semifinals and finals. Of the six wrestlers Havre advanced into the consolation placing rounds, only three won their final matches in the wrestlebacks: freshman Chad Ranes, who finished a solid third at 98 pounds; Dustin Haukenberry, who rebounded from a disappointing quarterfinal loss to eventual champion Kevin Owen to dominate the rest of the field and take third; and Beau LaSalle, who placed fifth at 125 pounds.
That finish in the consolation round put Havre 10.5 points down heading into the finals, and when Sidney's Ryan Hecker wrapped up the 125-pound championship, Havre's valiant run at a team title was over. Even though the final totals showed Sidney way out in front, it is easy to imagine that it could have gone the other way.
Havre got solid sixth-place finishes out of its sophomore trio of Clint Bradbury, Nate Harada and Billy Wagner. And Mike Sutherland, Dallas Thompson, Cody Seely, Tyler Wheeler and Stephen Brown all came within one match of placing as well. Still, Filius was nothing but happy about the way his team performed throughout the weekend.
"You can always find matches where you could have made up points," Filius said. "But all of these kids gave us everything they had this weekend. You can't ask anything more from any of them, and it was still a very good tournament for us."
While finals night may have marked the end of Havre's run at a 2004 team title, it was also an electrifying celebration of five outstanding Blue Pony wrestlers.
Of Havre's five individuals who advanced to Saturday night's championship round, junior Mike Hipple was the first to take the mat at 135 pounds, where he faced Dalvin Averill of Columbia Falls. Hipple, who had been dominant all tournament, cruised to the final with a pair of pins and a decision in the semifinals.
Against Averill, Hipple started out aggressive and stayed that way throughout. He led 5-2 after the second period and the only moment of trepidation came when he inadvertently dislocated his shoulder in the second period. Still, nothing could keep him from earning a well-deserved 7-2 win and his first state championship.
Hipple transferred to Havre from Kent, Wash., where he missed his sophomore year of wrestling because of a foot injury. He talked after the match about always wanting to win a state championship in Montana.
"I have had relatives wrestle in this tournament, so I have been here before, and I always wanted to come here and wrestle in it and see what I could do," Hipple said. "I wrestled as hard as I ever have in my life this weekend, because I wanted this really bad. I knew if I was aggressive and stayed that way, I could win here."
After the tournament was over, Filius also spoke about Hipple's tenacity and determination.
"Mike Hipple is a tremendous wrestler and he saved his best for this tournament," Filius said. "He was on a mission and he wrestled really well in every match. He was just a very tough individual this weekend."
Later on sophomore Evan Hinebauch would duplicate Hipple's title with one of his own at 160 pounds. Hinebauch made short work of Polson's Logan Kugler, who was a defending state champion. Hinebauch pinned Kugler one second before the first period ended. For Hinebauch, his first state title was the culmination of an odyssey that began last summer and ended with a near-perfect season.
"I really dedicated myself to being a better wrestler this summer," Hinebauch said. "I went to camps and I lifted weights and I worked really hard. This season proved that all of that work paid off. I knew that, because I worked that hard, I would wrestle as well as I did this year."
Of course, Hinebauch's journey almost ended Saturday morning in the semifinals against Sidney's defending state champion Gresh Melby.
Melby had Hinebauch down 8-4 with only a mere 30 seconds remaining in the match. That is when Hinebauch scored a miraculous takedown and followed it up with a 3-point nearfall that would catapult him into the semifinals.
"I never stopped thinking that I could beat him," Hinebauch said of his thrilling match with Melby, "I just told myself I had to keep wrestling all the way to the end and something would happen and it did."
While Havre may have been out of the team championship race, Hipple and Hinebauch both electrified the Havre faithful. With Havre fans rolling, senior Chad Seely took the mat for the 189-pound championship against Libby's Jake Graham.
Seely had also been dominant in the state tournament, reaching the finals with three straight pins. He opened the match well, taking down Graham to gain a 2-0 lead after the first period. But Graham came roaring back in the second period, nearly pinning Seely twice. Then leading 6-3 early in the third period, Graham ended Seely's dream of a state championship, pinning him at the 4:43 mark of the match.
Like Hinebauch, Seely had a dream season in 2005, but it ended in disappointment. Still, Filius had nothing but praise for his graduating senior after the match.
"Chad had a great season and he was a pleasure to coach this year," Filius said. "He is an outstanding wrestler and one match doesn't change that."
While Seely's loss ended Havre's chance to sweep in the finals, senior Bill Zuelke brought the Havre faithful back to life.
Zuelke, who was just two weeks removed from knee surgery, had perhaps the finest tournament of any Havre wrestler. In the 215-pound quarterfinals, he pinned top-seeded Travis Hjort of Libby and then earned another win by fall in Saturday morning's semis to reach the finals against Anthony Boyce of Browning.
Six days earlier Boyce defeated Zuelke in the Central A divisional championship match and the two put another show on Saturday night.
After a scoreless first period, Zuelke got on the board with a reversal for two points. Then leading 2-1 in the third, it was Boyce's turn to earn a reversal and take the lead. Zuelke then reeled off an escape and a takedown with :31 seconds left in the match to earn a coveted state championship. It was a brilliant performance considering the circumstances.
"I worried all weekend about my knee holding up," Zuelke said. "I knew that I could do this and I worked hard for it. I just had a feeling all week that this was my year and it was."
Said Filius: "Billy Zuelke's performance this weekend was spectacular. For him to have knee surgery two weeks ago and then do this is amazing. He is just a really tough kid and he outworked and outhustled everybody here this weekend. He is also a great leader on this team and he was a joy to coach."
And if three state championships weren't enough, sophomore heavyweight Matt Schnittgen sent the Blue Pony contingent home with a smile by downing Chris LaTray from Anaconda, 3-1, in the final match of the evening.
Like Zuelke, Schnittgen, who was the top-ranked heavyweight in Class A all season, worked his way to the finals with three pins in three matches. All four of Schnittgen's opponents this weekend were very good heavyweights, but he was the class of the field and it showed in the final, where he technically worked his way to a very sound and comfortable decision.
"Matt Schnittgen just outworks everybody," Filius said. "He wanted this all season and he worked hard for it and he earned it."
And while getting four individual state champions is a tremendous accomplishment, all four winners couldn't stop talking about the family-like atmosphere on the team. Words like that summed up Filius' season for him very easily.
"We had a great team this season," Filius said. "The practice room was a lot of fun and this team was as close as any team we have had in a long time. It was a lot of fun this year.
"To get four champions and 11 places is a great accomplishment," he added. "And scoring 244 points is pretty good, too. I think we can leave here feeling pretty good about what we did."
Sidney 264, Havre 244.5, Libby 188, Columbia Falls 145, Frenchtown 143, Polson 138, Anaconda 112.5, Whitefish 102, Glendive 95, Hardin 76, Corvallis 68, Dillon 61, Hamilton 45.5, Browning 45, Laurel 43, Ronan 37, Belgrade 25, Livingston 17, Miles City 13, Lewistown 10, Colstrip 8, Billings Central 3, Butte Central 0.
98 - J. Stedman, FTN, p. C. Hanson, FTN, 3:25.
105 - J. Obergfell, SID, p. B. Nordahl, FTN, 3:62.
112 - B. Uffelman, HAR, p. K. Fischer, ANA, 5:44.
119 - B. Stedman, FTN, d. A. Tarr, CFS, 3-2.
125 - R. Hecker, SID, d. M. Hader, CFS, 4-0.
130 - B. Kuylen, SID, d. K. Zetterberg, POL, 4-0.
135 - M. Hipple, HAV, d. D. Averill, CFS, 7-2.
140 - D. Copeland, SID, d. L. Starkey, FTN, 9-3.
145 - S. Bertelsen, LIB, d. R. Buck, CFS, 6-5.
152 - J. Brokaw, HAR, md. D. Collins, SID, 10-2.
160 - E. Hinebauch, HAV, p. L. Kugler, POL, 1:59.
171 - K. Owen, POL, md. J. Spencer, LIB, 26-13.
189 - J. Graham, LIB, p. C. Seely, HAV, 4:43.
215 - B. Zuelke, HAV, d. A. Boyce, BRW, 5-4.
Hwt - M. Schnittgen, HAV, d. C. Latray, ANA, 3-1.
98 - Chad Ranes (3rd Place)
1st rd - Bye.; Quarterfinals - pinned C. Medland, POL, 1:22; Semis - pinned by J. Stedman, FTN, 3:26; Consolation Semis - won by maj. Dec S. Ludwick, POL, 9-1; Consolation Final - won by dec S. Clary, RON, 9-1.
98 - Ryan Shelstad
1st rd - pinned J. Patterson, ANA, 1:21; Quarterfinals - pinned by A. Ladd, GLE, 1:53; Consolation 2nd rd - pinned by C. Brownlee, LAU, 3:32.
105 - Billy Wagner (6th Place)
1st rd - won by dec K. Stoddard, DIL, 7-5; Quartefinals - lost by dec S. Fox, LAU, 6-9; Consolation 2nd rd - won by dec B. Burdick, LIV, 8-2; Consolation quarters - pinned C. Kolodejchuk, CFS, 3:31; Consolation semis - lost by dec L. Torgison, POL, 5-0; Fifth/Sixth - lost by dec S. Fox, LAU, 5-6 in OT.
112 - Clint Bradbury (6th Place)
1st rd - pinned D. Powers, COR, 1:17; Quarterfinals - lost by dec L. Kuylen, SID, 6-11; Consolation 2nd rd - pinned J. Klemann, BEL, 2:40; Consolation quarters - won by dec C. Benson, POL, 6-4; Consolation semis - lost by dec D. Neff, WF, 5-10; Fifth/Sixth -
119 - Nate Harada (6th Place)
1st rd - won by tech fall J. Bierer, COR, 16-1; Quarterfinals - won by dec K. Kaltschmidt, WF, 6-3; Semis - lost by maj dec J. Stedman, FTN, 0-9; Consolation semis - pinned by J. Carlson, GLE, 2:03; Fifth/Sixth - lost by dec K. Ames, LIB, 3-9.
125 - Beau LaSalle (5th Place)
1st rd - won by dec J. Schlender, DIL, 14-11; Quarterfinals - lost by dec M. Roberts, LIB, 9-14; Consolation 2nd rd - pinned B. Hader, CFS, 1:54; Consolation quarters - won by dec L. Vandersloot, LAU, 11-3; Consolation semis - lost by dec J. Henderson, FTN, 0-5; Fifth/Sixth - won by dec T. Nagel, COR, 5-1.
130 - Gray Chagnon
1st rd - pinned by M. Starr, WF, 3:08; Consolation 1st rd - lost by dec T. Manolis, HAR, 3-7.
135 - Mike Hipple (Champion)
1st rd - pinned J. Kranz, RON, 1:22, Quarterfinals - pinned A. Martin, HAM, 4:49; Semis - won by dec S. Cummings, LIB, 8-3; Finals - won by dec D. Averill, CFS.
140 - Mike Sutherland
1st rd - won by maj dec P. Dellwo, POL, 8-0; Quarterfinals - lost by dec L. Starkey, FTN, 3-7; Consolation 2nd rd - pinned B. Lemmon, LEW, :59; Consolation quarters - lost by maj dec J. Moore, SID, 1-11.
145 - Adam Burrington
1st rd - lost by tech fall S. Bertelsen, LIB, 4-19; Consolation 1st rd - lost by tech fall J. Berkham, DIL, 1-16.
152 - Dallas Thompson
1st rd - won by dec B. Kuntz, WF, 8-5; Quarterfinals - lost by dec C. Pierce, DIL, 1-6; Consolation 2nd rd - won by maj dec K. Martz, ANA, 15-3; Consolation Quarters - lost by dec T. Thomas, BEL, 1-2.
160 - Evan Hinebauch (Champion)
1st rd - pinned N. Webster, CEN, 1:49; Quartefinals - pinned J. Williams, DIL, 3:08; Semis- won by dec G. Melby, SID, 9-8; Finals - pinned L. Kugler, POL, 1:59.
171 - Dustin Haukenberry (3rd Place)
1st rd - pinned S. Olsen, LAU, 1:07; Quartefinals - lost by dec K. Owen, POL, 2-3; Consolation 2nd rd - pinned N. Weller, FTN, 2:01; Consolation quarters - pinned G. Larson, SID, 4:47; Consolation semis - won by maj dec T. Lehner, WF, 15-4; Conslation final - won by maj dec J. Peterson, DIL,
171 - Cody Seely
1st rd - pinned E. Simonton, GLE, 3:56; Quarterfinals - pinned by J. Spencer, LIB, 1:05; Consolation 2nd rd - won by dec S. Olsen, LAU, 1-0; Consolation Quarters - pinned by J. Muhlheier, HAR, 1:55.
189 - Chad Seely (2nd Place)
1st rd - pinned R. Becker, MC, :19; quarterfinals - pinned N. Caron, CFS, 3:10; Semis - pinned J. Weigle, HAM, 1:40; Finals - pinned by J. Graham, LIB, 4:49.
215 - Bill Zuelke (Champion)
1st rd - pinned E. LaForge, HAR, 3:39; Quarterfinals - pinned T. Hjort, LIB, 1:06; Semis - pinned A. Jones, POL, 4:46; Finals - won by dec A. Boyce, BRO, 5-4.
215 - Tyler Wheeler
1st rd - pinned J. Ryan, GLE, 3:57; Quartefinals - lost by dec A. Jones, POL, 3-5; Consolation 2nd rd - pinned A. Uptain, BEL, 1:33; Conslation quarters - pinned by T. Hjort, LIB, 3:06.
HWT - Matt Schnittgen (Champion)
1st rd - pinned R. Warren, HAR, 1:29; Quarterfinals - pinned T. Goff, LIB, 5:07; Semis - pinned T. Church, CFS, 3:38; Finals - won by dec C. LaTray, ANA, 3-1.
HWT - Stephen Brown
1st rd - pinned S. Blaylock, LAU, 2:51; Quartefinals - pinned by T. Parker, WF, 3:23; consolation 2nd rd - pinned R. Warren, HAR, 3:58; Consolation quarters - pinned by B. Cranmore, COR, 1:36.