Havre Daily News
It's a brand new season for the Havre Blue Pony wrestling team. As always, with a new season comes new expectations, and falling just short of a Class A state title a year ago means the expectations couldn't be any higher for the Ponies this season.
The Ponies start off with one goal in mind: win the state championship.
“We feel we could have won it last year,” HHS head coach Scott Filius said. “And we think we have a good chance this year.”
Coming off a second-place finish at the state tournament a year ago, the Ponies are in prime position to make a run at their first state championship since 2001. After a couple of down years in which the Ponies only had one individual state champion over the two seasons, they look to build upon last season's successful campaign.
Returning three individual state champions is a good place to start
The Ponies, who hope to have a good mix of talent and experience in 2005-06, are led by returning individual state champion wrestlers Matt Schnittgen, Evan Hinebauch, and Mike Hipple. If the Ponies are to take the next step, all three will have to duplicate their success of a season ago.
“Anytime you have three defending state champions back, that's a positive,” Filius said. “We are going to count on those guys a lot this year. If you are looking for guys to have good seasons, it's them.”
The Ponies will also rely heavily on a group of other talented wrestlers. Chad Ranes, Beau LaSalle, Billy Wagner, Nate Harada and Clint Bradbury all placed at state last year, and all bring a great combination of talent and leadership that will be vital to the success of the Ponies this season.
“We have a great class of both juniors and seniors,” Filius said. “We have some good leadership on this team. The leadership is definitely a step above than what it has been in past years.”
The Ponies are also blessed with a wealth of young talented wrestlers like Phillip Sutherland, Logan Gjesdal, Ethan Hinebauch and Jeff Crawford, who should all challenge for varsity spots this season. These young wrestlers will not only complement the already solid core that the Ponies have built, but they will also improve the overall ability of the squad by raising the weekly level of competition in practice.
“We had a really good freshmen turnout this year. We have 14 kids out, and that's more than I have ever had,” Filius said. “They are a very athletic group and there should be a few that challenge for varsity spots each week.”
Another advantage that the Ponies will have going for them in the 2005 season is a roster that is as deep as any in Class A. This will not only allow the Ponies to put a solid wrestler on the mat in each weight class every week, but it also will pave the way for serious competition during the week. Every wrestler will have to earn his varsity spot in practice each week.
“There is going to be a lot of competition all year long,” Filius said. “We are two deep at almost every weight class so we have a lot of depth. Competition is really good. It makes the cream rise to the top.”
If Havre wants to achieve its preseason goal of becoming state champion, it will most likely have to reckon with the same team that placed ahead of it at the state tournament last year. The Sidney Eagles finished 19 points ahead of the Ponies a year ago.
Since that moment, the Ponies have been working hard to put themselves in position to get back to that point.
“Finishing second last year has definitely been motivating for the kids,” Filius said. “This off-season has been the best I have had since I have been the head coach.
“These kids have worked hard and they are really dedicated,” he added.
To say that last year's runner-up finish has been a motivating factor for the Ponies would be an understatement. The team comes into the season with a chip on its shoulder and feeling as if it has something to prove.
“We were very close to winning it last year,” Filius said. “We ended up losing by about 20 points, but we easily left 20 points out there.”
Ultimately, the season is an opportunity to take care of unfinished business and capture that elusive state championship. It may be a new season, but for the Blue Pony wrestlers, their goal is the same year in and year out.
“Our goal is always the same,” Filius said. “Every year our goal is to win the state championship.”
The Ponies will open up their season this weekend with the Havre Invitational. The tournament will begin Friday with a round robin format. Then wrestlers will be seeded according to their record in the round robin. The teams that will be competing this weekend are: Cut Bank, Shelby, Chester, Browning, Big Sandy, Chinook, Harlem, Malta, Valier, Livingston, Belgrade, Fort Benton and Butte Central.
“The tournament is a good chance for us to compete against some solid competition,” Filius said. “It also gives our kids a lot of experience because they will each get a lot of mat time.”
The Ponies will get a first look at Central A rivals Butte Central, Browning and Belgrade, and will also get tough competition from Malta, Fort Benton and Chinook.
However, Cut Bank should offer the Ponies the stiffest competition this weekend and should compete well with the Ponies for first place.
“Cut Bank is a strong team,” Filius said. “I expect Cut Bank to compete very well with us this weekend.”
The tournament is the first test for the Ponies this year and will provide a good opportunity for Filius to evaluate his team and find out where it needs to improve heading into the season.
“I just want to see the kids compete,” Filius said. “It's a great chance to see where we are, and what we need to get better at.”